Sabrina Thompson’s uncle, a Vietnam War veteran named Benjamin Harold Fitts, died May 6.
She remembers him taking care of her when she was a girl and called herself “the closest thing he had to a child.”
When faced with his funeral and burial, Thompson felt like she had nowhere to turn.
“My uncle didn’t have insurance; the county was going to bury him in a box,” Thompson said. “We didn’t want that, but we couldn’t come up with the money.”
But a local commercial advertising free caskets for U.S. veterans helped Thompson overcome the unexpected plight.
“I saw the commercial from Trevino Funeral Home and how they respect our veterans, and I’m grateful,” Thompson said. “It was very pretty — blue and silver. I was blown away.”
About four years ago, funeral director Bobby Trevino said his Corpus Christi funeral home started offering free caskets to veterans’ families out of sympathy and respect.
“We’re proud that they served our country and want to give something back to them in return,” Trevino said. “At night, we can say ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ and in the morning, we can say ‘God Bless America,’ because of these gentlemen that have served our country.”
To qualify, a veteran’s family must present a DD Form 214 and have been honorably discharged. The casket is free, but families must pay for the funeral service. The funeral home also provides a flag case to place the ceremonial U.S. flag after the service.
Trevino said his family-owned funeral home has always taken indigent funerals referred to them by the county.
Hector Rubio attended the April funeral of his friend, Reyes Torres. Rubio went through basic training with Torres, and said he was touched and impressed by the help his friend’s family received with the casket.
“It’s their way of honoring veterans for their sacrifice,” said Rubio, who was drafted in the Vietnam War-era while working as a schoolteacher in Corpus Christi. “When I came back from Vietnam, I was the scum of the earth. Now it seems like somebody is honoring us. Just the fact that someone in the community is honoring us who wouldn’t before.”
It took a few months but Thompson will be able to go with her mother, who was Fitts’ older sister, to put flowers at his grave. The tombstone was put up at his burial site in Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery last week.
“We’re very grateful,” Thompson said. “We need more people to appreciate those vets that went out there.”