Funerals aren’t always rip-roaring outpourings of grief and remembrance, especially for folks who are a little older and don’t have a large family.

This can be true even for people who had robust ties through most of their lives. By a certain age, a person’s peers may be dead, in poor health or living far away. Affiliations that supply scores of friends and acquaintances, such as work, volunteering or attending religious services, recede with advancing age and declining health. Personal relationships may deteriorate over time and be tough to shore back up.

Yet most of us intuitively understand that when the end comes, no one should be buried with only morticians and gravediggers looking on.

John James Murphy, 71, was a decorated Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War who lived in Elgin’s River View Rehab Center in suburban Chicago before his death on Dec. 18. He was believed to have relatives including siblings, a child and grandchildren, but no one stepped forward to claim him as kin or loved one, reports Rafael Guerrero in the Elgin Courier-News. An unattended funeral is not unheard of. Funeral homes often deal with them quietly.

Not this time. Symonds-Madison Funeral Home owners Daniel and Joy Symonds decided they would hold a service fitting of a military veteran. The Daily Herald published a story in which Murphy was described as friendly, polite and helpful. “Funeral for unclaimed veteran Wednesday in Elgin,” the headline read. Word about his potentially lonely funeral spread on social media.

And so things turned around for the remembrances of Murphy. When Wednesday arrived, the line to pay respects stretched out the door. “Many of you have come for a funeral for an unclaimed veteran,” the Rev. Tim Perry said. “What we would like for you to think about is this man is no longer unclaimed—he is ours.”

Americans are divided in many ways, but kudos to those who gave their time to respect Mr. Murphy, in a week when, much more famously, the country weighed another grief: the shocking deaths in a helicopter crash of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others. In Elgin, the volunteer mourners not only honored and uplifted a veteran’s memory, but also themselves.

Gathering to mark the passing of a life is among the most profound of human acts. If the life belonged to a complete stranger, the act becomes selfless.

John James Murphy, a native of Chicago, was president of his rehab center’s resident council committee. He previously worked as a Dominick’s grocery store manager and as a welder. For his service to his country, he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Presidential Unit Citation and Vietnam Service Medal.

He was buried with military honors, including flag-draped casket, uniformed pallbearers, bagpipes, funeral car processional and the playing of taps.

His mourners numbered in the many hundreds.

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