TRIANGLE, Virginia --
A line of cars snaked around Quantico National Cemetery in Triangle, Virginia, June 7, as more than 200 people waited to pay final respects to a woman they had never met.
Serina Vine, a 91-year-old World War II veteran, passed away May 21, at the Department of Veteran Affairs Community Living Center in Washington, D.C. She served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, where she worked in radio intelligence from 1944–1946. With no known family, Vine lived at the VA facility since 1995, after being found homeless in Washington, D.C.
Katie Bryan, an instructional systems specialist in Global Combat Support Systems-Marine Corps, volunteered to be Vine’s legal custodian through the VA Voluntary Service.
“For me, as a way to give back, I decided a few years ago to volunteer with Veteran Affairs as a pseudo family member for veterans who need assistance but do not have family members,” Bryan said.
When Vine passed away, Bryan planned a small ceremony on her behalf since she had no next of kin. She reached out to her colleague at Marine Corps Systems Command Bill Jones, project officer for MCSC’s Combat Equipment Support Systems and a local church elder, to see if he would do the eulogy.
“Katie originally contacted me to see if I would deliver the message,” Jones said. “Since I am not an ordained minister, I recommended someone else, but was interested in attending. However, once I realized that Ms. Vine was a WWII veteran, I knew that we could do more.”
The conversation between Bryan and Jones happened on a Friday—just days before the scheduled funeral. Jones said it bothered him that a veteran was being buried without recognition, and he decided to reach out to personal contacts to create awareness.
“We did not have a lot time or information about her, so that weekend I started doing some research,” he said. “As I started investigating, the puzzle of her life started coming together.”
Jones went through census data, military records and the national archives to learn about Vine’s past and found out she spoke three languages, had a bachelor’s degree from the University of California- Berkley, and as her caretakers also noted, loved to dress up for Sunday church.
Jones also reached out to another colleague, Dwight Micheal, a contracting officer for Combat Support Systems at MCSC, who is the pastor of Piney Branch Baptist Church in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Micheal was happy to step in as the minister and deliver Vine’s eulogy.
Seeking to honor Vines as best as possible, Jones also contacted Maj. Jaspen Boothe, an Army reservist and president of a nonprofit that provides safe, suitable housing to homeless female veterans. Booth then reached out to several other organizations through social media.
On the day of the service, the group of volunteers was in for a big surprise.
“We only expected about 30 people, but when I arrived, there were already 50 people present,” Jones said. “Eventually, as I started to watch the line grow, I asked each car who they were coming for, and they all said Serina Vine.”
As the 11 a.m. start time approached, veterans, service members, families and other community members filed in.
Because Vine was a Navy veteran, the MCSC employees arranged for a Navy color guard to be present, along with a Marine Corps unit to render a 21-gun salute at the gravesite.
“The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” Micheal said during the eulogy. “Honestly, it was our service to our country that brought us all together.”
The overwhelming support left an impression on the MCSC employees.
“In a time where our country is facing a lot of challenges, for a brief moment we got a chance to see what America is really supposed to be like,” Micheal said.