It's the way no one should die, let alone a veteran. Jerry Jerome Jackson of St. Paul, Minnesota was found frozen to death in a makeshift camp he had set up in a park. The 58-year-old man was was homeless. He had mental health issues. He was, according to his brother, schizophrenic. And he was also a veteran of the Marines.
After The Pioneer Press wrote several articles about Jackson, a local funeral home stepped up and offered him a free memorial service. A local church provided music. Investigators came forward to find family (they located one brother, Don Jackson.)
But possibly most touching of all, he was given the send-off he deserved at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery, and received a 21-gun salute from the United States Marine Corps Honor Guard. Taps was played. His brother was given the flag off his casket.
Never forget. And the Marines did not forget that this man was once their brother, always their brother, despite whatever befell him since he served in the Marines.
It is a wonderful tribute, but of course it's bittersweet too, because it makes you wonder if Jackson could have received more help.
His brother, Don, said that the "horrible disease" of schizophrenia tore through Jerry's life and destroyed his relationships with friends and family. He says that Jerry preferred to be his "own man" and "in charge of his destiny" by sleeping outside.
I'm not going to say that no one tried to help him. Jackson may have been reached out to but he did not have the tools to reach back. And it seems in this country we don't yet have the tools to reach out to mentally ill people in the way that they deserve. This is something we need to keep working towards. No one should die outside cold and alone, especially because he or she is mentally ill. Jackson served our country when we needed it -- why did we not serve him when he did?
Eighty people, most of them strangers, honored Jackson at his memorial service. One man wearing a Marine T-shirt hugged the casket. He didn't even know Jackson in life -- but he honored him anyway. Brings tears to your eyes.
Jackson may not have gotten the life he deserved, but he got the funeral he deserved, thanks to the kindness of strangers and the Marines.