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HONORS AT LAST: Veteran receiving military honors months after death during pandemic

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - "He was the love of my life," Pat Shea told ABC21 News, "I waited a lot of years to get that, and I really, really miss him."

Pat is talking about her late husband, Robert "Bob" Shea.

"My husband was a volunteer fireman," she said, "he also volunteered at our church. We did all those things together. As we retired we did all those things at the church, which was a blessing for us too."

Bob was a Vietnam Veteran, serving as a Master Sergeant in Saigon.

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, he returned after his service to spend the next 37 years working for BAE System Controls, retiring in 2002.

Pat met her husband after her kids were grown, their love story is charming to those who hear it.

"He loved me dearly, and I was so happy to have that marriage because I had been married before - we both had," she explained, "I was 50 and he was 51 when we got married."

Looking to meet someone in an age before online dating, Pat met Bob through a posting in the Journal Gazette.

"I put an ad in the newspaper looking for an athletic guy who liked to bike and so I get this call from this chubby little guy," Pat said, breaking to giggle, "I think he fibbed a little bit but, God love him! He was so sweet."

She shared more about Bob and his past, passions, and hobbies.

He loved Model A's, even owning two of them at one point.

Bob was also a painter, his artwork could be seen throughout Pat, and his childrens' homes.

To those who knew him, he was a proud veteran, often wearing his Vietnam hat.

"It was very hard for those that came back to Vietnam," Pat told us, sharing that Bob didn't talk about his service very much, "He took it very seriously."

Pat knew that when Bob died, he wanted military honors presented at his funeral.

But due to COVID-19 restrictions, that wasn't possible.

He died April 9th, just a week after his birthday.

Before that, Bob spent many months in nursing homes as his health declined.

Pat moved him to Kingston Care Center at his request.

Just days after, the pandemic hit the U.S. and visitors were no longer allowed at long-term care facilities.

"His birthday was on the second of April. I asked them to see if they could just bring him to the window so I could just see him... and that was the very last time I saw him," Pat told us tearfully, "I dreamt about what it would be like, when I sat by his bedside and I said goodbye to him... and I wasn't there to sit by his side and tell him how much I loved him."

Much like other families, having a funeral hardly provided closure, as COVID-19 limited how many people could attend.

"Not being able to have the service in our church was devastating," she said, "we had just a graveside service."

Volunteers with the Washington Township Fire Department appeared with trucks and firefighters in uniform to pay their respects.

Pat did all she could to get Bob his military honors that day, but it wasn't allowed.

Behind-the-scenes, those who knew Pat and Bob's story, organized a chance for their family to finally partake in a ceremony, that will bring closure three months later.

Saturday, the Marine Corps League Detachment #1435 Pride and Prupose is partnering with VFW Post #857 and American Legion Post #499 to host military honors for Bob.

Pat told us, "I want this closure for Robert. It is what he wanted, and that is very important for me, to give him what he needs."

RELATED: Recently deceased vets to be honored during flag retirement ceremony

More than 2,000 American flags will be retired as well.

ABC21 will stream the event live on Facebook beginning at 10:45 a.m. July 11th.

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is an award-winning journalist and photographer who started his career at ABC21. He is a Michigan native and graduate of Grand Valley State University. Daniel welcomes any story idea. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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