WINFIELD, Kan. (KSNW) – Homeless veterans are all too often laid to rest in solemn, sparsely attended services as the surviving family of the deceased can often be difficult, if not impossible, to reach.
Data from a 2019 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that approximately 40,056 veterans are homeless on any given night, and over the course of a year that number can double.
The inscription above the Kansas Veterans’ Cemetary mausoleum reads “No one is ever buried alone, all are buried with honor,” and the staff and south-central Kansas veteran community do their best to fulfill that promise.
A great deal is unknown about the life of Ted Phillips, 73, who was laid to rest Thursday at the Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery in Winfield. Phillips, who was born April 5, 1946, according to his service records, served in the United States Navy during the time of the Vietnam war, including duty from 1964 to 1968.
Phillips was honored for his service with the receipt of the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. His last duty assignment was aboard the USS Benjamin Stoddert as an ERT3.
Much of Phillips’ life after serving in the Navy and before his medical stay at The Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center remains a mystery, aside from the sailor falling on tough financial times as he aged.
Phillips is said to have a sister, but she was unable to be contacted proceeding his burial. Instead, brothers-in-arms came to honor and pay respects to the veteran.
When it was discovered that a homeless veteran from Wichita would be buried with no contactable relatives, spouses or dependents, a fellow Wichitan, unrelated to Phillips, went to social media to invite anyone who would honor the memory of a sailor they may have never met. Dozens from around the area did just that.
The funeral service for Ted Phillips was held Thursday morning at Resthaven Mortuary in Wichita. Resthaven often provides funeral ceremonies for homeless veterans. Following the service, Phillips was taken to The Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery for burial that afternoon
“I do believe it is extremely important to have somebody, anybody, family, friends, with you when you die,” said Erika Weber-Sprinkle of Wichita who attended his funeral service and made the drive to Mr. Phillips’ site of internment in Winfield, Weber-Sprinkle says she did so out of duty. “It is a complete honor to be here today. We would not be here today, we would not have the freedom we have if it was not for our veterans. They all should be honored.”
Respect was given to Phillips by the Honor Guard and dozens of others from the veteran community, some of whom also drove over an hour to the cemetery to make sure this veteran, who served his country but fell on hard times, was not forgotten.
“I thank you, Mr. Phillips, for your service,” Erika concluded, “and thank you for my freedom.”
Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery at Winfield Cemetery Manager, Chet Sweet tells KSN that these types of services are common, and he and staff feel honored that they are able to give the men and women that served this country a respectful and dignified home going.
If you are a qualifying veteran, spouse, or dependent of a veteran, you might be eligible for burial at the Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery based on your military history. For more information, click here.