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Friends of veteran with no next of kin ‘overwhelmed’ by number of people who attended his funeral

Posted at 5:19 PM, Feb 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-21 17:42:53-05

AUGUSTA, Mich. — James Cook always wished to be buried at Fort Custer, said his friend of 30 years Michael Berryhill.

Cook served in the Air Force, fought in the Vietnam War and had a Ph.D in ballistic science, Berryhill said. He also spent a few years getting treatment at the Department of Veteran Affairs at Fort Custer.

Friday, Cook got his wish with over 100 people laying him to rest.

“I was overwhelmed with joy. I broke down in tears,” Michael Berryhill said while standing next to his wife Tia after the funeral. “It was just overwhelming. The kindness that people have it’s just unbelievable.”

Thursday, FOX 17 reported that Cook had no next of kin. Tia Berryhill described him to be a smart, funny and a introverted man. However he rarely spoke about his family.

Tia Berryhill said she had a few names of relatives and tried to reach out to them on Facebook after Cook unexpectedly died a few weeks ago. He had been experiencing a number of health complications.

However, she didn’t hear from anyone.

“Initially we thought that it would just be my husband and I coming out here,” she said. “But then when we got the phone calls yesterday it was just, I couldn’t believe it.”

After Cook died, the Berryhills decided to have his body cremated, she said. However, Ofield Funeral Home in Grand Rapids offered to hold a funeral at the cost of a cremation.

The Berryhills were floored.

Ofield reached out Fort Custer who jumped on board in giving Cook a full military service.

“It’s just a great honor for the veterans that gave us all our freedom,” said Honor Guard volunteer Barbara Hibiske. “It’s a pleasure every time I’m out here.”

Hibiske was one of the dozens of people who came out to honor Cook. She didn’t know him. No one did. But, they stood together in the 30-degree weather and saluted Cook.

The Berryhills were grateful, they said.

“All these people came out, did not know Dr. Cook at all,” Michael Berryhill said. “They stepped up and came here and supported him. It's wonderful. It’s amazing.”