A Columbia funeral home is inviting the public to attend the funeral of a Vietnam-era veteran whose family could not be located.
While COVID-19 restrictions preclude an in-person gathering, anyone wishing to honor the life of Paul Edwin Hammock, 71, of Columbia, can do so by offering a prayer or personal tribute from inside their vehicle at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the parking lot of Parker-Millard Funeral Service and Crematory, 12 East Ash Street.
Full military honors will be presented at the public service for Hammock, who died April 11 at University of Missouri Hospital.
Parker-Millard owner Reid Millard said part of the funeral home’s duty to the community is to honor those who have served in the armed forces in cases in which they are homeless, without family or have other extenuating circumstances.
“Somewhere, there is someone who loved this gentleman or still does,” Millard said. “If they are still thinking about him or are already in Heaven, they would probably be looking down and be proud that he is getting the service that he deserves.”
Missouri VFW Commander Troy Williams on Friday commended Parker-Millard for its efforts in ensuring a veteran is given a proper memorial. He said he has heard of funeral homes in other states hosting similar events, but this was the first in Missouri to the best of his knowledge.
“For the funeral home to do this is an amazing way of showing their respect for a veteran,” Williams said. “I would hate to see any person, veteran or non-veteran, at their funeral for no one to be there.”
Hammock served in the United States Air Force from 1968 to 1972 and was based at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Service records show he was a Protective Equipment Specialist, charged with maintaining the safety of equipment used by airmen and women during the height of the Vietnam War.
During his service, Hammock was awarded the Air Force Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, an honor established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953 to recognize those serving in combat or support roles during periods of armed conflict from 1950 to the present.
A motorcade with members of the Patriot Guard and other veterans’ organizations will escort Hammock to his resting place at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Jacksonville, in northern Randolph County.
Gatherings for internment are limited to 10 people or less due to the pandemic, according to the cemetery’s Facebook page. Condolences or messages of support can also be left at the online memorial for Hammock.
Williams said amid the pandemic, several service men and women have been laid to rest without receiving honors. The organization hopes to remedy that in the near future.
“For us it’s our way of saying goodbye and thanking them for their service,” Williams said. “We have been talking about once the COVID-19 has lifted, and we can get back together, going to different cemeteries and doing one big ceremony for those who did not get that good-bye.”