I wish to thank all those present for take the time to honor my departed friend and comrade, George Ferrocarril. Thank you!
Duty. Honor. Country.
Those three simple words are the code we all served by. Part of Duty and Honor is we leave no fallen comrade behind. Today, we fulfill that commitment.
George enlisted in the Air Force days before me. We were both at Basic Training at Lackland AFB, Texas. We both were assigned to Griffiss AFB, Rome, New York. While we didn’t work all that far apart, we never knowingly met back then.
George worked on the KC-135A Stratotankers. He also went TDY to Anderson AB Guam to repair the KC-135s supporting the B-52s bombing Vietnam. Aircraft maintenance is far from a cushy job. He worked in rain, sun, night, and snow. He worked on aircraft either too hot or too cold to touch. He did his duty anyways.
George was working doing quality control for parts for the Space Shuttle in Kalamazoo. This is when we met due to both of our love of trains. He had the sad duty of playing a small role in the accident investigations into the loss of the Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.
George was my e-mail buddy while I served with the Michigan Army Guard in Iraq. He knew when I was on duty. He would be quick to respond to my answers to his e-mails. He helped bring home to a far off land.
George died unexpectedly in his motel room in Texas. His body was found on November 7, 2016. The local authorities never checked to see if George was a Veteran. This Veteran of the Vietnam Era was unceremoniously buried as an unclaimed body. No flag draped coffin. No rifle volleys. No Taps. No Honors given. He had no children. He was divorced. His parents had already passed.
My concern over not being able to contact him finally prompted me to have his and my friend, Karen Damvelt contact his friends on Facebook in early 2017. Fred Rosen, his childhood friend responded. Fred investigated and gave us the bad news that George had died.
We learned how George was so badly treated in death. The three of us decided to correct this. This was the beginning of Operation George.
With all that has happened, I have been called many very flattering compliments. Now I can tell you who the real heroes are. These are the people that never knew George when he was alive. They only knew the wrongs that were done after he died, saddled up and joined us to right them.
The first is attorney William Townsley in George’s hometown of Danville, Illinois. When I contacted him, this former Marine saddled up and helped in so many ways. He got George’s estate into probate and had me named as co-administrator. Mr. Townsley never talked about a fee in any way. Mr. Townsley, you still live up to the Marine creed of Semper Fidelis, Always Faithfull.
Karen Damvelt and I made two trips to Danville to assess and find a buyer for his huge Lionel train empire. We recovered his papers, photos, and homemade videos by George of him rail fanning, watching trains pass around the country. Karen found his wills and gave them to Mr. Townsley.
I found an item that I have returned to Fred Rosen. An ID bracelet he and other friends of George gave to George just before George enlisted in the Air Force in 1971. This bracelet must have been special to George as he kept it all these years through many moves.
With that part of Operation George done, the problem of getting George’s body moved and reinterred with the military honors he earned remained.
Many ideas were tried. Ideas were given by friends. All failed. So many calls met with no’s or ignored. E-mails went unanswered. Government agencies, politicians, and veteran groups were those contacted to no avail. Frustration grew. The wrongs done to George frustrated and motivated the three of us to continue.
Finally I called Senator Cruz’s DC office late last year. The aide gave me a number to Texas State Senator Beverly Powell. I called and Jimika Allison answered. Another hero saddled up for Operation George. Jimika found Lezlie Kurtz. Another hero saddled up.
They two ladies have made today possible. They defeated the bureaucratic paperwork monster to get George disinterred. Lezlie contacted the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. Not only did they saddle up to escort George’s remains to the crematorium, but dug deep into their own pockets to pay for the disinterment.
Lezlie found a crematorium owned by and Air Force veteran who donated the cremation. Another hero had saddled up.
Benjamin Pobocik, the owner of Winkel Funeral Home in Otsego Saddled up and donated his services, the urn, even had it custom painted for George.
I have to also thank the Air Force Color Guard from Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio for making the long trip to honor George.
William Townsley, Jimika Allison, Lezlie Kurtz, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, an anonymous crematorium owner, Benjamin Pobocik, and all here in attendance are the real heroes today. You are the people that never knew George in life. You are the people that took the time to do what you can to honor a fallen Veteran dishonored when he died so long ago in Texas.
We need to take action in the future so that no more Veterans are dishonored in death as George was. We need to remind those that deal with unclaimed bodies to go farther to check to see if this person was a Veteran. We need for authorities to go beyond family to use the technology of social media and cell phones to find their friends.
Fifty years ago we landed two Americans on the Moon. Certainly a nation that accomplished that feat then can do this today for our fallen comrades. We enjoy our freedom today because of their service yesterday. For that we, this nation, owe our Veterans proper honors and the extra step of notification of their friends. We are a most caring nation.