Hundreds of people showed up to Jerry Billings' funeral last Friday, but not a single person in attendance had ever met the Oklahoma City veteran.
Billings, who was homeless, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 69. No family members came forward to plan a funeral service, KOCO News 5 reported, so a number of veterans organizations stepped in to honor him with the help of Dignity Memorial -- a group that provides burial services for late homeless vets, among other services.
"This was just amazing, absolutely amazing," Christine Hoffman, who works for the city, told KFOR of the service that drew nearly 1,000 attendees. "My heart is just swollen."
News of Billings' funeral spread on social media after a post about the funeral by advocacy group Oklahoma City Veterans Connect was shared more than 6,500 times.
In the U.S., homelessness disproportionately affects military veterans, the National Coalition for the Homeless points out. A report released last October by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) found there were about 50,000 homeless vets across America.
But significant progress has been made in recent years. According to the White House, overall veteran homelessness dropped by a third between 2010 and 2014.
According to Oklahoma City Veterans Connect, the funeral home that hosted Billings' service said the U.S. Navy aviation machinist airman served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968.
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