No veteran is left behind.
Our nation’s heroes’ final journey is never lonely because a Bronx native has made it his mission not to let that happen.
Jim Mullarkey, president of the New York State Catholic War Veterans, has provided a dignified funeral service for more than 40 indigent veterans over the past 20 months.
The wake and burials are a final salute to brave men and women like the ones he served with, Mullarkey, a City Islander and former sandhog, who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and Airbone in Vietnam, said.
“These are fellows who have fallen on hard times, (and) have no money, no relatives,” said Mullarkey, adding that it was an honor when he was asked to assist in the effort.
The burials take place at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, with wakes at Brooklyn Funeral Home in Brownsville, he said.
The former solider stated that he vowed like many veterans never to abandon his friends and buddies in Vietnam.
In 1969, the former paratrooper parachuted into Van Cortlandt Park to honor his friend Joe Dunne, carrying Dunne’s burial flag.
Now, Mullarkey takes the burial flags and gives them to members of his group, or in one case, to the landlord of a private house where one of the deceased veterans lived for years never speaking of his wartime experiences.
“For me, to know that I have taken care of a veteran’s unforeseen needs is a great accomplishment,” he said, adding that he and others don’t really need to know the people being buried because they served their country with distinction, but feel on hard times like any of us can.
An accomplished poet, Mullarkey often reads a poem that he wrote in 1984 at the burial ceremonies called ‘Don’t Grieve for Me.’ The poem, spoken in the voice of the deceased, stresses the fullness of life’s experiences.
Another, called ‘I Hear You Knocking’, was written for the younger soldiers who recently fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have served multiple tours, he said.
Right now, Mullarkey said that the Catholic War Veterans, a national organization, is in need of more volunteers from the ranks of Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans.
“We are in deep trouble because these (soldiers and sailors) coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t volunteering,” said Mullarkey, who added that he has asked Timothy Cardinal Dolan to have his priests get the word out at masses throughout the Archdiocese of New York.
When Mullarkey served in Vietnam in 1959, among his duties was guarding the wife of the prime minister of South Vietnam, he said.
He served with the 77th Special Forces on his first tour and 82nd Airborne Division on his second, he said.
His first trip to the southeast Asian nation was to help groom a new generation of soldiers in the South Vietnamese army to be better soldiers: calmer and more aggressive.
He stepped back into a much different situation in 1968, when America’s involvement peaked.
Mullarkey is also an accomplished visual designer. He designed a war memorial painting at a subway station at Bainbridge and Jerome avenues depicting three soldiers in front of an American flag with the phrases ‘gone but not forgotten’ and ‘always in our hearts and prayers.’
He also designed a tribute to his fellow sandhogs on a handball court at a Manhattan school.
He was honored in November by the Bronx Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.