GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — West Michigan Army Veteran Leroy Berry passed away at his home in Kentwood several days after Thanksgiving.
He served his country in and out of uniform as a life-long advocate, yet his family is struggling to find the money to pay for his burial.
They turned to 13 ON YOUR SIDE for help.
“I was so happy about it. I had the biggest smile I ever had.”
Shirley Berry swipes through a few of her favorite photos as the memories come rushing back. Like the year the love of her life officially popped the question.
“I go back in the room, he comes in the room, and he get on his knees and I said to him, what are you doing,” Shirley laughed. “He said, baby, I want to marry you. I said, what, are you for real… That was the biggest smile that day. It really was.”
In all the years they spent together, Shirley says she rarely heard Leroy complain about anything. That would also hold true of the lung cancer diagnosis that would ultimately cut their love story – and his life – all too short.
“When his time came, all the time that I was there by his side, he took it like he was in the army,” Shirley related. “One thing he did leave with me, we set on my steps, because I had to help him down the step. He said, Baby, he said, I'm not going to be here long. I said to him don't say that. But he did. So I just want to be there for him.”
She discovered Leroy, an army veteran who fought in Vietnam, had no insurance policy when he passed away.
“This is why I'm struggling, because my income is too low to do what I need to do for him,” she explained. “If I could, I would with a smile, but I can't. So I'm sad about it.”
“He chose to deal with it in silence like he was he was military,” Granddaughter Shykeisha Jones related via Zoom Thursday. “He was very strong, and just like, okay, this is going to happen, but I'm still going to remain strong for my family, like he didn't want to worry us.”
Jones says that’s not out of character for a man whose passion for service stuck with him even decades after he took off the uniform.
“Even once he retired from the army, he did foster care. So he fostered a lot of children until their parents was able to get them back,” she related. “He cared about everyone.”
Trying to give her grandfather the send-off he deserves, she’s helping her grandmother navigate the process.
“She wants him to go to the military cemetery, the graveyard,” Jones related. “It's just hard for us because we'll have to do embalming, they'll have to pay for his caskets.”
As a vet, the Berrys qualify for funeral benefits through the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA website shows coverage levels vary from person to person, capping out at a maximum of approximately $2,000, with another several hundred in place for qualifying vets to put toward a grave marker.
In Leroy’s case, it’s not enough to cover the cost.
“That's the hard part right there,” Jones said. “We're running out of time and my family just really doesn’t know what to do.”
Shirley’s wedding band is a reminder of the eternal bond the two share. She hopes someone will step-up to help the family bring Leroy to his final resting place.
“I love him. Always. But I can talk about him too much,” Shirley related, tearing-up. “I miss him. I really miss him… I'm just so sad because I don't have the money to do what I supposed to do.”
The family says additional expenses — embalming, the casket and the funeral itself — will amount to around $6-thousand.
Jones launched a GoFundMe in an effort to raise the money, which can be found here.
She urged anyone who was able to donate, but stressed time was a factor.
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