AUGUSTA — Hundreds of people gathered Thursday afternoon at the Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery to send off Gerry R. Brooks one last time.

Gerry R. Brooks Photo courtesy of Neil Buck

Brooks, 86, of Augusta, was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, according to his obituary. He died on May 18, 2024, about three weeks after he was diagnosed with brain and several other types of cancer.

No one in his family stepped forward to claim his body. But after a Facebook post circulated with news of the funeral and the situation, hundreds of people showed up Thursday on a sweltering hot afternoon with temperatures in the 90s for Brooks’ funeral, including one person who fainted because of the heat.

Katie Riposta, director of Riposta Funeral Home where Brooks’ body was kept, said she received inquires from 100 or so people who called to say they would assist with the funeral for the “unclaimed” veteran.

“There has been an outpouring of support from veterans,” Riposta said.

Thursday’s funeral was Riposta Funeral Home’s second this year for an unclaimed veteran.


The funeral home assisted with another funeral in February and said that over the past five years, it’s becoming a more common situation.

Uniformed military pallbearers carry a casket holding Gerry R. Brooks’ remains before a graveside service Thursday at Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“No one claimed him or wanted to and where it’s been over a month, it’s not respectful to him to keep him here and it’s why we decided to move forward with it,” Riposta said.

In Maine, as of the 2020 census, there were more than 109,567 veterans from ages 18 to over 85 and 51% of the veterans were over 65. In Brooks’ age category of over 85, there were 10,162 veterans in Maine, with the largest age category in the state being in the 70-75 range, with 17,000 veterans.

The VA estimated in 2023 that nationally there were around 20,298 unclaimed veterans waiting to be buried.

Two United States Marines fold the U.S. flag that had been draped over Gerry R. Brooks’ casket Thursday at Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, a veteran is entitled to a proper burial defined by federal law and the VA in some cases will pay for a portion of fees associated with the burial.

Ryan Lorrain, the director of communications for the Maine Bureau of Veteran Services, said his staff has not seen an increase in the number of abandoned veterans, but said it does happen.


“In these instances, our cemetery superintendent and other staff attend the service and accept the veteran’s burial flag from the honor guard,” said Lorrain.

Little is known about Brooks, but several people who knew him from the Bread of Life soup kitchen in Augusta showed up to honor his memory.

Neil Buck volunteered at the soup kitchen and would sit down with Brooks during his meals to chat, when Brooks would share stories about his life.

Buck said from what he remembers, Brooks grew up locally in central Maine, on a farm, and was widowed.

“I would just sit down and listen to his stories,” he said.


Victoria Abbott, the executive director of the Bread of Life soup kitchen, knew Brooks well through the soup kitchen and helped call the ambulance for him three weeks before he died.

“He was walking toward the soup kitchen and he didn’t look well, and he hadn’t looked well,” she said at the funeral. “We called the ambulance and found out he had brain cancer and other cancers through his body. Everyone from the soup kitchen signed a card for him.”

Abbott visited him at the Glenridge rehabilitation center in Augusta, where Brooks spent his final few weeks, but did not know much about him as a person other than his sense of humor. She knew him for about three years, the same length of time she has worked at Bread of Life, but did not know anything about his family.

“We were happy to have him be a part of the community and he was a treat to see every day,” she said. “He had a fun sense of humor.”

Join the Conversation

Please sign into your account to participate in conversations below. If you do not have an account, you can register or subscribe. Questions? Please see our FAQs.