RANDOLPH — Steve McCord, the Cattaraugus County director of Veteran Services and district service officer for the American Legion, shares this story with us:
Walter L. Bunn was a hero, but no one knew that. He served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, earning numerous citations for his bravery.
He served five years in the Army, including the combat years, and he returned home to Western New York where he assimilated back into society becoming a private contractor.
Having survived combat in Southeast Asia, a freak accident at home cost him both his legs.
As time went on Walter aged and watched his family and friends pass away, one by one. It became too difficult for Walter to live on his own. He went into assisted living and, finally, skilled nursing. Even though he lived in Erie County, he was placed in the Gowanda Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Cattaraugus County.
During his time there Walter lived a life of quiet dignity for 11 years before he passed away on Feb. 21. During the 11 years few people in Gowanda even knew he had been a veteran, let alone his stellar military resume.
But Walter was a humble man.
At the time of his passing, he had no family left and no assets and was destined for an indigent burial. Numerous funeral homes were contacted about doing a service.
All but one declined. Howie Van Rennselaer of VanRennselaer & Son Funeral Home in Randolph said he would do it.
Howie is not a veteran but he has always looked out for the veterans in his community. When Howie heard Walter’s story he knew it would not be enough to just have a simple service for Walter.
Howie contacted the Cattaraugus County American Legion, The Cattaraugus-Allegany Council of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and many other service organizations. A service was held March 1.
There was not enough room in the funeral home. People had to stand outside for the service. Howie had coordinated with the Patriot Guard to create a receiving line where all veterans went through and rendered a final salute to Walter.
Howie was not done, though. On March 2, he and the Patriot Guard escorted Walter to Bath for burial at Bath National Cemetery.
On Wednesday, members of the American Legion, Department of New York, 8th District, led by Henry Link, Past District Commander and representing current District Commander Bill Miskell, presented Howie with a District Letter of Appreciation, a Chautauqua County resolution thanking Howie for his selfless service to veterans (unknown to the Legionnaires Howie had just completed another pro bono funeral of a veteran) and an American Legion challenge coin.
Also representing 8th District were Stan Kawski (District Chaplain); Steve McCord; Allie Burdick (Cattaraugus County Commander); and Jim Lemanski (Chautauqua County Commander).
Two heroes have been honored: Walter L. Bunn and Howie VanRennselaer. Veterans quite often say they feel their service goes unnoticed (or worse, taken for granted) but when a Howie VanRensselaer comes along our faith in our community is restored.
Thank you, Howie.