Originally published in The Observer by David Ambro
When the lawn in front of Northport Village Hall and Northport Village Park are covered in a sea of American flags, it means something.
The Stars and Stripes display is a fundraiser for Angels for Warriors, a not-for-profit volunteer organization that provides information and guidance about essential resources available to veterans and their families. Located at 164 Main Street in Huntington, Angels for Warriors was founded a decade ago by Rogerlyn Cipriano, of Northport, whose brother, Angel Velez, is a career combat veteran injured at war who almost died from his wounds and inadequate care.
Ms. Cipriano, an attorney, and Angels for Warriors went above and beyond its call to duty Monday, July 11 and arranged for a proper funeral and burial for David Marcus Coty, a homeless veteran of the United States Air Force who fought in the Vietnam War. Mr. Coty died in the hospital April 25 with no family or next of kin to claim his body. It took more than two months for Ms. Cipriano to arrange for the release of his body from the morgue where it was unclaimed, so that there could be a proper military funeral.
The culmination of Ms. Cipriano’s efforts came Monday when a funeral for Mr. Coty was held at Claude R. Boyd-Spencer Funeral Home in Babylon followed by a military burial at Calverton National Cemetery. It brought Ms. Cipriano to tears talking about it Monday, when she concluded that it was worth every bit that she had to put into it.
“It was so beautiful. It was so dignified and so beautiful,” Ms. Cipriano said.
Angels for Warriors has a contract with Services for the Underserved, a large service agency, to represent its veteran clients in court. “Angels for Warriors provides pro bono and low-bono legal assistance to veterans in addition to connecting them with services they need, whether it be medical services, educational services, psych services. Whatever they need, we connect them with those services,” Ms. Cipriano said.
It is through Services for the Underserved that Mr. Coty came to Angels for warriors when he was being evicted from his home, and it is how Ms. Cipriano came to know and represent him. She negotiated with the landlord to pay his arrears so that he could stay in his cottage in Nassau County.
Earlier in the year, Mr. Coty became ill, was hospitalized, was transfered to a nursing home, and then was sent back to St. Francis Hospital where he passed away April 25. Working with Services for the Underserved, Ms. Cipriano and Angels for Warriors worked with the landlord to secure Mr. Coty’s belongings and they searched for next of kin. “He had no next of kin. No one stepped up for him,” Ms. Cipriano said. “We put out press releases and tried everything we could, but no one claimed this poor man. No one ever came forward. Since April he was in the morgue. I was so heartbroken. I would check every day to see if someone came to claim him, but they never did.”
Ms. Cipriano said she became the point of contact as his attorney, and she began working on the arrangements to arrange for a proper funeral for him. As a veteran, Mr. Coty was eligible to be buried in a national cemetery and he was entitled to a veteran burial. She had to work through the Public Administrators offices in both Nassau and Suffolk County to have Mr. Coty’s body released from the morgue.
She said the Claude Boyd-Spencer Funeral Home arranges veteran funerals and that it is a beautiful facility and very easy to work with. Once she finalized the arrangements, Ms. Cipriano sent out emails to veterans’ organizations across Long Island inviting them to send representatives to the funeral. She said veterans from far and wide came and the Services for the Underserved social workers came and they filled the funeral home.
“This is a man who had no one, who probably never expected to have so many people there for him. It was just so beautiful,” Ms. Cipriano said.
As a lawyer who has worked with veterans for a long time, this was Ms. Cipriano’s first time working on a funeral. She said it was a call to service.
“Our men and women in the military go out and sacrifice everything for this country—everything,” she said. “And for someone to come home and be alone after they have done so much—this man served in the Air Force in Vietnam for five years–and he came home and he was alone in the end. For me to see that there are still people who believe in this country, who still believe in the values of this country and who still believe in the military, that means everything to me.”
“Whether you are red, or blue or purple, whatever you are, we are still one America and we have men and women who believe in this country and go out and fight for our freedoms and no veteran should ever—and this is my deepest belief, should ever be laid to rest alone—never,” Ms. Cipriano said.
The funeral of David Coty Monday, goes beyond anything she ever anticipated when she started Angels for Warriors.
“I started this organization to connect veterans with services because they come home and they don’t know where to turn. I just wanted to be a conduit for them to get services. What it has grown to be is beyond anything I thought it could be,” Ms. Cipriano said. “It’s a place where people come to feel comfortable, it’s a place you can come if you need legal services and you’ll get it, but never in my wildest imagination would I have thought that I would have to claim a veteran’s body and have it laid to rest.”
“I am so proud that I did,” Ms. Cipriano said, and she cried. “As I said before, no veteran should ever be laid to rest alone and this was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. I’m so glad I got that because he was alone and I’m sure he never expected that he would be given this send-off.”