LEWISTON — Beverly Webster spent five months seeking help to bury her friend, Korean War veteran Donald Lyon. On Thursday, she got it.
"I'm awed," Webster said. "His ashes have been picked up, paid for and taken to Togus. I'm flabbergasted."
Since September — when Lyon, 78, died of complications from a brain tumor — Webster of Poland searched for someone to help with his burial expenses. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs helped, but its $300 left a balance of $850 to pay Lyon's funeral expenses.
Searches for relatives of Lyon turned up no one. Neither Webster nor other friends had the money to spare.
The story was featured in Thursday's Sun Journal. Within hours, offers for aid came.
Some knew Lyon. Some didn't.
A stranger from Greene offered to pay out of respect for Lyon's military service. A buddy called with an offer to help "the greatest guy in the world." A woman called with an offer to organize a fundraiser.
"I'm willing to stand in front of Walmart and collect a dollar at a time," said Brenda Castallano of Mexico, who started her morning by calling a friend of Lyon's and a local funeral home.
“Mr. Lyon deserves our respect," she said. "This is the least I can do."
But she and the others were too late.
Maine Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, read the story, too.
“I was so moved by Mr. Lyon's story,” Craven said in a prepared statement. “It is shameful that a veteran without family or financial resources is left without an honorable burial. This is the least we can do to show Mr. Lyon our respect for his service to our country.”
She gathered Senate Democrats who took up a collection. By midday, they presented a check to Dave Richmond, the superintendent of the Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery System.
He went to Direct Cremations of Maine in Belfast, collected Lyon's remains and took them to the Togus VA Medical Center outside Augusta.
Mark and Pamela Riposta, the crematory owners, said they were unable to release the ashes until Richmond took responsibility for them.
"Our hands were tied," said Mark Riposta, himself the son of a Korean War veteran.
"Everyone who comes to us is treated like a loved one," Pamela Riposta said. "We always, always take care of them as soon as we can."
Since his death and cremation, Lyon's ashes have been stored in a bronze urn in Mr. Riposta's office, he said.
The news relieves Webster, who kept a thick file of papers in a basement office, all aimed at settling her friend's affairs.
"I cannot believe this," she said.
A burial will be planned for the spring, she said.