Members of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter No.
32 salute Master Sgt. Joseph White, a Vietnam
veteran who died penniless in a Manhattan hotel.
(photo by Michael O’Kane)
A collection of Queens veterans, determined not to let
the passing of a fellow soldier occur without recognition,
helped transport Master Sgt. Joseph White on Tuesday to a
burial plot in Calverton National Cemetery.
White’s body could have remained in the city Medical
Examiner’s Officer for an undetermined amount of time had Pat
Toro Jr., president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter
No. 32, not intervened. Under Toro’s leadership, the chapter
recently became an “organizational friend” to deceased indigent
veterans, which closes a loophole that otherwise restricts those
soldiers from a proper burial in the national cemetery.
White’s final days did not match the glory he once
achieved as a soldier. The recipient of a number of medals,
including the Distinguished Flying Cross, White died poor
and alone in Manhattan’s Herald Square Hotel.
While the city Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs provides a
burial plot for servicemen, it cannot transport a body out of
the city. Calverton National Cemetery is located on Long Island.
The organizational friend acts as a go-between, working with
both the city and a funeral home to transport the body for
The city informed Toro of White about a week ago and the
chapter president spoke with a number of funeral homes to help
transport the body. Hess-Miller Funeral Home, of Middle Village,
readily agreed to help in this endeavor and picked up the body
Chapter members went to White’s hotel room, collecting his
service uniform to fulfill his request that he be buried in it.
“This is a very big thing for our chapter,” said Toro. “This
is what we’re all about. This is what we want to do, this is how
we pay back for the guys who sacrificed.”
About 12 members of the chapter turned out Tuesday at 9 a.m.
outside the funeral home to salute White, then proceeded to the
cemetery, where U.S. Air Force servicemen folded his flag and
presented it to Toro. The flag is typically given to the next of
kin, though one has not yet been identified. Toro said he will
hold onto the flag until that happens.
Toro said there are about 14 more deceased indigent soldiers
at the Medical Examiner’s Office and he has spoken with several
funeral homes in the area that have agreed to help with future