By Rob Hughes
A dying Marine had one final wish. He wanted to be buried in uniform, along with a Marine Corps flag.
"He had a good heart. He had a great sense of humor," said Christine Cleary with the Oklahoma City Veteran's Affairs Medical Center.
Donnie Loneman loved being a Marine. He was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Doctors gave him three weeks to live.
"He was interested in who was going to be left behind," said Cleary, standing in the room Loneman passed away in the night before.
Cleary knew Loneman well and was by his side constantly in his final days.
Homeless for the last decade, Loneman didn't have a dress uniform, and couldn't afford one.
"Donnie was his own person. He did what he wanted, and a lot of people fell in love with him for that. We get guys like him once in a blue moon, who really make a difference for everyone here," said Cleary.
The Oklahoma City Veterans Affairs told Loneman's story and saw an outpouring of support and sympathy from many veteran's organizations, including the Folds of Honor Foundation, Honoring America's Warriors, Catholic War Veteran's League, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, Oklahoma Department of Veteran's Affairs and Disabled American Veterans.
The Kiowa Black Leggings Society, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees and the Chickasaw Nation all worked with Sgt. Grit Marine Specialties to get the dress blues and flag donated. These organizations came together, not only to honor his final wish, but also to pay his funeral expenses and give him an honor guard.
Loneman wanted his pallbearers to be Marines.
"He said I don't want you guys to be sad, I want you guys to keep going, and keep helping people," said Cleary.
Loneman died Thursday night. He will be buried the same way he served our country, with honor and dignity.
"He said, 'I'm going to enter the gates, and I'm going to tell all the Marines that are standing there that they're relieved of their duty, and I'm going to take their place, and I'll stand there until my arm gets tired, and another Marine comes.' He said 'I'm ready to go," said Cleary.
One of Loneman's friends wrote the following letter to honor his legacy:
I first met Donnie Loneman at the Shawnee Native American Stand Down. I gave him my card, told him about my program and answered his questions. He moved on. This is a story that Carolyn Fletcher tells about that day: Donnie struck up a conversation with her, because he is Cheyenne-Arapaho. She explained that she could assist him with housing, but Donnie told her he was not ready for that responsibility. They talked for a bit, and Donnie moved on. Soon, he returned, showing her a cap he had been given by someone. He was like a kid at Christmas, big-eyed and excited. "Look what they gave me!" he said. Later he returned again, showing her the sleeping bag and shoes that he had received. Each time, there was a sense of wonder that someone cared about him, that he mattered enough to be given something.
Once more he returned, standing at attention with his cap on, his back pack in place, with his new boots. He said "Look!" and then removed his hat. He had a new haircut, what he called a "high and tight Marine cut." He was so proud, smiling from ear to ear. Shortly after he left, another lady approached Carolyn. She told Carolyn that she had seen Donnie around Shawnee for five years, but she had never seen him smile."
Shortly after that, Loneman moved to Oklahoma City. He was fighting his demons. Christine Cleary with the VA homeless program worked to get Donnie off the streets.
Loneman seemed to feel that he did not deserve it. He always said that we should save it for the veteran who needed it more than him.
He used to come and see me every week or so. I think he liked that I "mothered" him. When I scolded him for staying out in the cold, he always smiled real big, and told me that he was a Marine, and Marines are tough. "We can take it, we can take anything," he said.
So when a doctor told me that he had three weeks to live, he told me that they cried for a couple minutes, but that was it. He was happy, he said, for three reasons. One: He was going to see the Lord. Two: He was going to see his mother, and three: he knew that when he gets to the pearly gates, there would be a Marine standing guard. That Marine would salute him, and then go on into heaven. Then Donnie would stand guard until the next Marine arrived.
Christine and I listened while Donnie planned his funeral. He asked for three things, a Marine "high and tight" haircut, Marine dress blues and a Marine flag for his casket. Christine sent out a call for help, and the response was great. He received all of his requests.
He passed away Thursday evening with his friend Ricky, his sister-in-law, and his niece by his side. The nurses said that he looked "perfect" with eyes and mouth closed with a very peaceful smile on his face.
One nurse said "You could sure tell where he was going."