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Local veteran starts foundation to help pay for veterans’ funerals

By Laurie Everett leverett@mtjulietnews.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:39 PM

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Crone’s father was a three-war veteran. He served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. 

Crone has served in the Army 12 years, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently a medic in the Indiana National Guard and lives in Mt. Juliet.

When his father, Sgt. Robert Crone, died in 2011 Crone wasn’t able to properly mourn the man he loved so much because he was bombarded with not only planning an unexpected funeral and burial, but also trying to find out how to pay for it. 

“I ended up having to sell a bunch of things,” he recalled this week. 

His dad did not have money set aside for a funeral and Crone just wanted him to have a proper, simple and respectful burial. Veteran Affairs does give a $700 funeral reimbursement for veterans’ funerals, but Crone said, “we’ve never seen it, and I don’t really think we will.”

Even simple funerals can range from $3,000-$7,000. Crone had to come up with thousands of dollars in a hurry.

“It really interrupted the mourning process,” he said. “I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through that.”

Crone met Staff Sgt. Travis Weik on his first deployment. They became friends. Soon after Crone’s father’s funeral, Crone began to think of a way to help out others who have respected family members in the military and can’t afford sky rocketing funeral costs. 

He approached Weik about partnering to start a non-profit organization that could help out in these times of mourning and expense. They co-founded Service Members Family Relief Fund in 2012, got their non-profit status and officially started helping out with veterans’ funeral costs in January. 

“We pooled our money and asked our friends and families to donate to the original seed fund and got to work,” said Crone. 

Just after a month they paid $1,000 to help pay for the funeral of a Marine from California. Not long after, they paid another $1,000 to a family of a Korean War veteran from Missouri. All funds are paid directly to the funeral home after extensive vetting to verify the need and eligibility. 

Crone said he feels wonderful when he makes a call to a family to say the organization will help defer costs the best it can. 

“I know why I do this now,” he said quietly. “When I make that phone call and there’s that brief pause on the other end of the phone. They are surprised and grateful and realize they can now properly mourn and things will be okay. I hear it in their voices.”

This father of a 7-month-old, and about to adopt two more children into his family, said he only hopes their small contributions will make things better.  The criterion to be eligible is the recipient should be a former combat veteran or a retired veteran from any branch of the military and discharged honorably. 

“We intend to stay a humble charity with a goal of six to 10 funerals per year, but if we are put in a position to do bigger things for more people we will of course answer the calling,” said Crone. 

Go to their website SMFRF to donate or fill out an application for assistance. 

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