Scott Brown, director of the Veterans Advisory Commission of City Council, said a forsaken Philadelphia veteran of World War II “made a request we had to honor”. His name: Thomas Oberkehr.
“He walked into our office in City Hall, looking for help in late January. Disheveled and seemingly confused, Thomas asked us to help him get a veteran’s burial. We looked up his DD214 and assured him a full military honor.”
On Mar. 27, Thomas Jefferson Hospital staff advised Brown that Thomas Oberkehr had died and had indicated before his death arrangements had been made by the Veterans Advisory Commission for his funeral.
Scott said “My first thought was, “Everyone has somebody, right?” Not in Thomas Oberkehr’s case, he discovered. The Postal Workers Home at 8th & Locust had been his home and Brown learned from the manager Oberkehr had not one visitor in the 17 years he lived in one of their apartments. Neither did he have a television set or a telephone.
On his kitchen table was an envelope contacting the message, “Please contact Scott C. Brown, Director of the Veterans Advisory Commission upon my death.”
Scott understood he had been adopted and entrusted to give Thomas a first class funeral free and clear.
Joyce McKeown, VAC coordinator, had been besieging the internet for clues while getting the word out, looking for family members.
Scott called Brian Donnelly, funeral director from Murphy-Ruffenach, 3rd & Wolf Streets, for a freebie funeral. As usual, he said “Yes!” Brian had been delivering free funerals to forsaken veterans sent to him by Scott. The Military Funeral Honors Team, based in the city, committed to a full military service for Thomas.
Father Otto of Sacred Heart Church, across the street from the funeral home, provided the religious service.
Who showed up at 3 p.m. on Apr. 9 in time for the service but his only son, Thomas Oberkehr, Jr., from Northern New Jersey!
His dad, he relates, had long ago been estranged from his family. Senior’s wife had died. Junior, now 60, was single. The only memory he had of his dad was the fact, “He threw me into Barnegat Bay to learn how to swim, because we were spending summers at the shore.”