PERRY — A quiet, private man, Herman White never divulged much about himself.
But for everyone who gathered Wednesday to bid him goodbye — whether they knew a little about him or, more likely, nothing at all — that wasn’t important.
The only thing that mattered, as Perry resident Ervin Bier put it, was “he was a veteran.”
Bier and his wife, Pam, both military veterans and members of Perry’s American Legion Post 53, were among several hundred people on hand at Grace Hill Cemetery in Perry to pay tribute to White, a World War II Navy veteran who died recently at 97 with no known survivors.
Joining community members at the special graveside service and ceremony were state legislators, dozens of Patriot Guard riders and a strong contingent of white-uniformed Navy personnel from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City.
White’s wife, Evelyn, and son, Mickey, died previously, and after failing to find other survivors, Brown-Dugger Funeral Home in Perry reached out to the community.
With the funeral home covering some of the cost and providing the casket, the American Legion and Perry First Baptist Church donated more money to help pay for a service. Meanwhile, dozens of other volunteers offered their help in other roles.
The Biers didn’t know White personally. But just knowing that he was a veteran, “we wanted to figure out how to get him buried,” said Pam Bier, who served with the Army Reserves.
She added that, initially, “that’s all we thought we were doing — helping bury a veteran.” But almost overnight it turned into much more, as the word spread.
“And it’s not just the American Legion but Perry people who stepped up,” she said.
“This is fantastic,” she added of the showing Wednesday.
Ervin Bier, who did three tours in Vietnam, read Psalm 23 at the service for White.
‘Sense of responsibility’
Among others who spoke was state Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry.
While the late veteran may not have had any known relatives, “I submit to you today,” Hall said, “that Herman White is surrounded by family.”
“If you were like me,” he added, “you had a range of emotions — an undeniable sense of responsibility or maybe even duty” to see that White was appropriately honored.
Hall recognized members of the state House and Senate Veterans Caucus, whom he said were in attendance.
White died Aug. 11. Although he’d reserved a plot next to his wife and son, he made no arrangements for funeral and burial expenses. He donated his home and possessions to the First Baptist Church.
Had it not been for the donations, he might’ve been interred at a local potter’s field. Officials with the funeral home said they couldn’t let that happen.
One of thousands who learned via social media about the plan to honor White, Norman North High School junior Benjamin Egan volunteered his trumpet.
“I thought they might need someone to play taps. So I contacted them, and they said yes,” said Egan, who performed at the service alongside a uniformed trumpeter.
“He was a veteran with no immediate family,” Egan said of White. “It’s really great to see so many people here.”
Also part of the service, letters were read from President Donald Trump, Gov. Kevin Stitt and Navy Admiral Greg Slavonic.
In his letter, read by Master Sgt. William Thorn, the president offered his “deepest condolences to this respected member of the Greatest Generation. … Their sacrifice was critical to the defense of our freedom.”
Not a lot is known about White’s military experience.
He served in the Pacific aboard the USS Muliphen, an attack cargo ship. He served from May 1945-April 1946 and received an honorable discharge as a seaman second class.
Although he, too, was unacquainted with White, Harrell Denson had a connection to him that likely no one else on hand Wednesday shared. The Oklahoma City resident once served on the Muliphen.
“You don’t hear our ship mentioned very often,” he said, adding that he was on it in the late 1960s, many years after White.
Denson, who was at the service to represent the ship’s alumni association, said of White, “There’s a kinship that we shared. … We walked the same decks, ate in the same mess hall.”
Pam Bier said the circumstances surrounding the service touched her and her husband personally.
More than 40 years ago, the couple lost a baby, she said, and weren’t in a position to pay for services. Someone stepped forward then to help and told them instead of paying him back, to help somebody else.
“It’s taken 43 years, but now we are doing that,” she said.
Richard Hanks, of Ford-Wulf-Bruns Funeral Home in Coffeyville, Kansas, who officiated the service, praised the large turnout.
“Sadly, it was only in his death that we learned his story, and yet here we are today,” he said.
In so doing, he added, “we are pledging to be the bearers of Herman White’s story.”