METHUEN — Parking along North Lowell Street was hard to find late Friday morning as people flooded into Elmwood Cemetery to pay respects to a woman most of them had never met.
They had heard that 84-year-old Korean War veteran Eileen Robichaud would be buried without any mourners in attendance. And they wouldn’t have it.
Robichaud, who passed away Sept. 6, had few immediate family members left. So local funeral director Aaron Mizen called upon the public to give the service member the farewell she deserved. Under a clear blue sky and shining sun, more than 200 people — young and old, veteran and civilian, townies and out of towners — gathered to honor her.
“We are just blown away by the turnout of everybody who showed up,” Robichaud’s cousin Thomas Vittoriosa said. “I had to park way down the street.”
Robichaud, a Navy veteran and Methuen native, enlisted months after graduating high school and served from 1953 to 1957. After her father became ill, she returned to Methuen to care for him and open a beauty salon in the middle of town, which she operated through the early ’80s. She and her mother often traveled New England together in a Jamboree Camper, according to her obituary.
During a service that spanned more than an hour, a crowd of relative strangers encircled Robichaud’s ashes, set beneath a burgundy tent. Leather-clad members of the American Legion Riders, a motorcycle group that aids severely wounded service members, stood shoulder to shoulder with others who appeared to have come straight from work, their keys in hand and ID badges dangling from beltloops.
When it came time to sing the national anthem, 5-year-old Lara Whitcroft — previously unknown to the Robichaud family — seized the microphone.
Fellow veteran Linda Dean Campbell, a state representative from the 15th Essex District, gave the eulogy and called Robichaud “a trailblazer” for enlisting in the Navy only five years after women were officially allowed to serve.
Christina Hathaway made the trek from New Hampshire to stand stoically in her Army uniform as “Amazing Grace” was played on the Uillean pipes. She’d never known Robichaud, but she felt an obligation to give her a proper farewell.
“She was a fellow sister in arms. And because of sisters like her, there are not only opportunities but honor in serving for women like me. She’s from the generation that made it all possible,” said Hathaway, who enlisted in the Army in 1997 and served in Afghanistan. She is set to retire in June.
By the time the service concluded and the crowd dispersed, a sea of flowers surrounded a memorial photo of Robichaud, a vestige of the masses who’d gathered at the funeral in the middle of a workday. Venus Hammack, who never knew Robichaud, lingered long after North Lowell Street had cleared.
“I came because she is special, and I wanted to send her off accordingly,” said Hammack, who left the convent as a 19-year-old to serve in Kuwait, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. “It helps when all of us show up. It reminds us that we’re not and never will be alone.”