SHRUB OAK, N.Y. - Hundreds turned out to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Shrub Oak on Friday to ensure that Robert Graham, a World War II veteran with no remaining family, was given a send-off reflective of his heroic life.
“He’s got nobody left, but we’re here because of him,” said Ralph Delbove, a member of the New York Riders – Putnam County.
First responders, veterans and citizens came from far and wide to pay their respects to Graham, a Yorktown resident who died Friday, April 12, at 97 years old. During WWII, he saw combat duty as a member of the Marine Raiders, a unit of the United States Marine Corps. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.
“A lot of people don’t even know what his name is, really,” said Pat McDonough, adjutant of American Legion Post 1009. “They’re here to make sure that he doesn’t go away with two people here and they forget about him.”
The funeral, which gained national attention in the days leading up to it, was organized by Beth Regan, a Putnam Valley resident who met Graham four years ago while volunteering at Field Home, a senior living facility in Yorktown. The 27-year-old Regan asked Field Home if there were any residents who needed companionship and they gave her the names of Robert and his wife, Rosie, who died two years ago.
“It was just an instant connection,” Regan said. “I actually met him on my first day volunteering. I’ve been going back for four years ever since.”
Prior to moving into Field Home, she said, Graham lived in Jefferson Valley and worked as a corrections officer at Sing Sing Prison.
Knowing that Graham had no surviving family members, Regan took it upon herself to organize the funeral.
“Bob, being as humble as he was, didn’t realize that this country appreciated everything he gave,” Regan said. “I really wanted today to be a tribute and send-off to him. I also wanted it to be a national story to just really honor him and show what a great country we have to have this kind of turnout.”
Regan succeeded in her efforts, as images of Graham featuring the date, time and location of the funeral were seen and shared by millions of people on the internet. Prominent media figures, such as CNN’s Jake Tapper, shared the image on their personal social media accounts.
“I’m speechless, to be honest with you,” Regan said. “You always hope for something like this, but you never really know. It’s incredible. It’s really, really special.”
Regan described Graham as a humble man who rarely talked about his military accomplishments.
“He thought it was bragging if he told us stories,” she said.
“He risked his life for our country, for us to have the freedoms that we have today,” Regan continued. “And, at 97 years old, he lived an amazing life, took care of people, was such a kind spirit. He really needed to have a good send-off.”