A collection of Queens veterans, determined not to let the passing of a fellow soldier occur without recognition, helped transport Master Sgt. Joseph White on Tuesday to a burial plot in Calverton National Cemetery.
White’s final days did not match the glory he once achieved as a soldier. The recipient of a number of medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, White died poor and alone in Manhattan’s Herald Square Hotel.
White’s body could have remained in the city Medical Examiner’s Officer for an undetermined amount of time had Pat Toro Jr., president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter No. 32, not intervened. Under Toro’s leadership, the chapter recently became an “organizational friend” to deceased indigent veterans, which closes a loophole that otherwise restricts those soldiers from a proper burial in the national cemetery.
While the city Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs provides a burial plot for servicemen, it cannot transport a body out of the city. Calverton National Cemetery is located on Long Island.
The organizational friend acts as a go-between, working with both the city and a funeral home to transport the body for burial.
The city informed Toro of White about a week ago and the chapter president spoke with a number of funeral homes to help transport the body. Hess-Miller Funeral Home, of Middle Village, readily agreed to help in this endeavor and picked up the body on Sunday.
Chapter members went to White’s hotel room, collecting his service uniform to fulfill his request that he be buried in it.
“This is a very big thing for our chapter,” said Toro. “This is what we’re all about. This is what we want to do, this is how we pay back for the guys who sacrificed.”
About 12 members of the chapter turned out Tuesday at 9 a.m. outside the funeral home to salute White, then proceeded to the cemetery, where U.S. Air Force servicemen folded his flag and presented it to Toro. The flag is typically given to the next of kin, though one has not yet been identified. Toro said he will hold onto the flag until that happens.
Toro said there are about 14 more deceased indigent soldiers at the Medical Examiner’s Office and he has spoken with several funeral homes in the area that have agreed to help with future burials.