Heart Warming: WWII Coastguard Vets’ Unclaimed Body Buried By His Neighbors

Friday 8th April 2016 was a cool day at Arlington National Cemetery, with a brisk breeze blowing across the white headstones. A Coast Guard Honour Guard stood ready and a small box draped with the Stars and Stripes was reverently buried within the hallowed bounds of the cemetery. The bugler played taps, three rounds were fired and the Honour Guard carefully folded the flag and handed it to Bill Sheppard along with a soft, felt bag containing the 21 shells fired in Andrew Moore’s honour.

So, who was Andrew Moore? Was he a well-known soldier, a hero of one of America’s wars? Well, he was a soldier, but he was not famous nor was he a hero he was just a man who was raised as an orphan, fought for his country, remained a bachelor all his life and had no close friends left when he passed away. He died aged 89, leaving no will and having no next-of-kin. In theory, he should have been buried in a pauper’s grave in the District of Columbia, but that did not happen.

So how did he come to be inurned at Arlington? This happened because of the efforts of the only family that Andrew Moore had; one that he probably did not recognise as family, but by the definition of caring for one another, they were his family. These people were the other residents of the eight-story, 308 unit, apartment block in which he lived; State House bordering Embassy Row in Washington. This apartment block has all the hallmarks of a village, in that they cared for each.

Andrew Moore was a well-known sight as he sat on the front steps and smoked a quiet cigarette. He was a Redskins fan and always wore his Redskins red and burgundy cap. He loved football and would chat to anyone about the game and his beloved team, often delaying the mail man for some time.

He was also well-known for bringing treats, such as Hershey’s Kisses or cookies from McDonalds, to the staff when he went out. Damian Greenleaf, the building’s engineer, remembers, “I offered to replace his AC unit once, and he said not to bother, I prefer the breeze.” He was not an extroverted man but he was one of the villagers and they were determined to see that he had a fitting burial and would not be consigned to the local potter’s field.

Bill Sheppard and Nick Addams, both residents in the apartment block, are the type of person that makes a point of breaking through the urban invisibility that seems to surround so many city dwellers. Both of these sociable men would chat with anyone they met around the building and thus knew Moore and it was these two men that took on the task of ensuring that Moore received a fitting funeral.

By chatting with Moore they built up the story of his life; how he had joined the Navy and served in the Philippines, and then worked for some years with the Coast Guard before staying on dry land and working in a federal warehouse and for an insurance company.

When he died, Sheppard and Addams knew something of Moore’s history but there were large gaps in their knowledge. They remembered Moore telling them that his mother was a Native American who was unable to care for her son, so she gave him up at an orphanage in Omaha. Moore told his friends that the nuns and priests at this Catholic orphanage taught him the discipline that served him well all his life.

In recent years, Moore’s health deteriorated and his mental faculties started to fail. He became confused about people and took to calling Nick Adams, ‘Calvin’. With a gentle smile, Addams said, “I just answered to it.

In 2014, Moore suffered a fall and was taken to a rehabilitation hospital where a court-appointed guardian was assigned to him.

Charles Fitzpatrick, Moore’s guardian, wanted him moved to a nursing home because Moore was incapable of walking without the assistance of a walker, but Moore was adamant that he return to his beloved State House apartment. “Mr. Moore was a very strong-willed character, and he was having none of it. I was dubious, but I really admired the fact that he was able to do what he wanted to do.” said Fitzpatrick.

In December Sheppard saw an ambulance outside State House and he immediately thought of Moore. The desk clerk told him that Moore had been taken to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital where he died a few days later from heart failure. Sheppard and Addams were speaking about Moore and commiserating with each other over his death. Knowing he had no family they were concerned over his funeral arrangements.

Addams had taken up a position as a tour guide around Washington DC, on his retirement, and knew how the procedures at Arlington National Cemetery worked. He knew that it was almost impossible to gain permission for a grave site at Arlington, but it was possible to have a veteran’s ashes laid to rest there with full military honurs, if family and friends were prepared to push for it.

Sheppard took up the baton and he drafted an appeal for financial aid from the other residents of State House.

An appeal letter was hung on every doorknob in the building whilst Addams took up the task of researching Moore’s service record, a job that entailed bearding the bureaucratic lion in his den at the Pentagon.   Addams told an interview, “The medical examiner’s office was extremely helpful. When a person there heard that he was a veteran, she said they could arrange for him to be buried at Quantico. But we were committed to Arlington. There is no place like Arlington.”

In the mean time, the two friends had to get Moore’s body released to them. Under normal circumstances, in Washington DC, the body of an indigent or unclaimed person is cremated and the remains are buried in a mass coffin or if the body is that of a veteran the ashes are sent to Quantico.

Getting the body released to friends is unusual but does happen on rare occasions and Sheppard and Addams arranged for Moore’s body to be released to them and sent to a funeral home.

Sheppard and Addams took the letter explaining how they became the custodians of Moore’s body to Arlington to try and arrange to have his ashes laid to rest there. The officials at Arlington were reluctant to recognise Sheppard and Addams as PADD (Person Authorized to Direct Disposition).”I had to ask for a supervisor, as they usually talk to a brother or a close friend. I was just the guy down the hall,” said Addams.

Having arranged that the ashes could be laid to rest at Arlington, the pair now had to hope that their appeal for financial aid would come to fruition so they could pay for the cremation and buy a small urn. Much to Sheppard’s delight, envelopes began to appear underneath his door.

The residents of State House had risen to the occasion and altogether the sum of around $2,000 was raised to ensure that Andrew Moore had the send off benefiting a veteran. Thank-you notes, along with information about the funeral were sent to every donor. All in all the entire cremation cost $1,500 and the remainder of the money was donated to a veteran’s group.

This is how a single man with no blood family came to be laid to rest at Arlington, with full military honors, on that cool day. A man who fought for his country took his place for all eternity amongst his comrades in arms. The people that lived in the same block of apartments had come together to give a man they did not know the best send-off that they could.

This is a tale of compassion and the true meaning of family. Bill Sheppard, Nick Addams and all the residents of State House, Washington DC, deserve thanks and praise for their kindness.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE