Vietnam vet deserves a friendlier farewell

by | Mar 24, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

If you knew Sanderious Crocker, please read this.

He died.

He was 67. Folks called him Sam. He was living in poverty in downtown Detroit. A Vietnam veteran who was seriously wounded, he’d been homeless for a while. He struggled with alcohol. Maybe you know this. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you lost touch. Maybe you wanted to.

Whatever the case, you should know that Sam’s body had been sitting at a Detroit morgue for a week before a friend called me and asked whether there was a way to find his family – any family – because a soldier shouldn’t die alone and neglected.

He left behind his papers. I am looking at his discharge form now. It says he served four years in the Marine Corps, in 1964-68. It says he earned badges for pistol and rifle marksmanship. It says he won several medals.

Under “Character of Service” is one word:


His war at home

It’s possible I met Sam Crocker, and maybe some of you did, too, because he used to hang around the I Am My Brother’s Keeper Ministries on Brainard and Trumbull. The earliest anyone remembers him there is 1998, when he was sitting on a low wall across the street from the church.

“It was summertime, and we were talking, and he was telling us he used to sing background with the Contours before he went to Vietnam,” remembers Anthony Castelow, an elder of the church. “Finally about 7:30 we said, ‘OK, we’re gonna go.’ But the next morning we came back, and we saw him sleeping on the ground on the other side of the wall.

“I said, ‘Sam, what are you sleeping on the ground for? You’re a veteran! You gottta have a check coming and a place to live, right?’

“Well, he cussed me out with both barrels. He said, ‘Don’t tell me what I gotta have.’ I said, ‘OK, OK, I apologize.’ That night, Pastor Henry Covington took him in, let him stay with some of the homeless guys in the church.”

By that point, Sam was already more than 50 years old. As near as I can cobble together, he’d been part of a family that was split apart because of domestic issues. He graduated high school in 1964 and shortly thereafter went into the Marines.

He did four years. Fought “guerrilla forces” in Vietnam. According to his paperwork, he received the Presidential Unit Citation, which is given for extraordinary heroism in action.

What Sam did over there, I cannot tell you, because he apparently did not like to talk about it.

“He was shot up pretty badly,” Castelow recalls. “He lost half his stomach. He lost use of his legs for a long time. He was angry about it.”

Over time, it caused Sam to withdraw from much of life and take up with alcohol.

Does this sound like a familiar story?

Service fit for serviceman

No man should die alone. No man should be buried without a farewell. Sam Crocker, who used a motorized wheelchair at the end, had no family around when he passed, left no information, no phone numbers. I put the word out through calls and the Internet, and some 200,000 people shared it around the world through Facebook. Eventually, a younger sister was located.

She was stunned. She hadn’t had contact with her brother in 40 years. All the other siblings, she said, were dead. When I told her that Sam, as a veteran, was entitled to a military funeral, she was extremely grateful, and said she would attend.

Annette Covington of My Brother’s Keeper was instrumental in connecting people. Deacon Norris, who owns Gates of Heaven Funeral Home in Detroit, has rescued the remains and “got him a nice suit and tie.”

Sam spoke of a daughter. No one has been able to find her. If she is reading this, perhaps she wants to get in touch.

The rest of us can pay our respects at 3 p.m. this Friday at the I Am My Brother’s Keeper church. Sam will later be interred, with a military funeral at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly.

Maybe you knew Sam. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you feel bad for his ending. Maybe you don’t. I can’t sit here and tell you Sam was a great man or even a good one. But I do know he served when his country called, and he paid a price, and the military sent him off with the word “honorable.”

Maybe we should do the same.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.commitch.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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