Bury a veteran in a cardboard box? Not on his watch, says Mike DelPizzo

It was an early Sunday morning in November 2012. Mike DelPizzo and his wife were enjoying coffee on the patio, reading the newspaper. Then they came across a story that shocked them.

“A veteran’s cremated remains were buried in a cardboard box at the nearby national cemetery,” Mike said. “That’s a heck of a way for a veteran to be treated.”

Mike, a senior network process and quality manager from Jacksonville, Florida, is himself a veteran. He served for 22 years in the U.S. Air Force before joining AT&T.

Honoring forgotten heroes

So Mike and his wife got to thinking. Maybe they need help in order to honor these veterans with a proper burial. After contacting the Jacksonville National Cemetery, they learned that some families just don’t have the resources or funds needed for an urn or a funeral. According to Mike, urns can run up to $1,000.

So without a second thought, he started building.

He completed a few initial prototype urns, using five-, seven- and 10-pound bags of sand to test their durability. Soon after he delivered them to the cemetery, he received a call asking for more. And ever since then, Mike receives frequent requests from the cemetery when they run out.

The 10-inch x 7-inch x 7 ½-inch urns take some time for the passionate, self-taught woodworker to build. Mike said he produces them in mass quantities to cut down on production time. He can now build about 20
urns in five days, using whatever wood he can get his hands on. Some families even request a certain type or shape, and Mike accommodates them.

After getting home from work each day, Mike spends some quality time with his wife, and then says to her, “if you need me, I’ll be in the garage ‘urn-ing’ it.”

Mike and his wife even went to a local printing shop and asked for logos to be made for each branch of service. They thought it would be a nice touch to add those stickers to the urns. When the shop learned what they were doing, they were so moved that they donated the stickers for free.

Now, when Mike delivers the urns to the cemetery, the team there will organize the funeral and add the appropriate sticker for each veteran.

Paying it forward

“I’m so proud of what he’s doing for these men and women who fought for our country,” said Greg Shaw, assistant vice president in Network Engineering. “It just goes to show that there are still good people in the
world.”

Good, indeed. To date, Mike has made more than 100 urns.

“He’s doing it all without funding from anyone else,” Greg said. “He’s devoting his own time and his own money to help others. It’s outstanding.”

Mike’s work has even prompted his AT&T family to get involved. And when Mike told them he wasn’t looking for monetary donations, they donated lumber.

A lasting gift

Just last month, Mike was asked to be a pallbearer at a ceremony at the cemetery.

“Everyone buried that day was buried in an urn I had made,” Mike said. “When I saw all of the urns lined up in front of the American flags, I can’t tell you the feeling that gave me.”

During the ceremony, Mike held the urn of a veteran who was born in 1910 and served in World War II. “It was such a surreal feeling,” he said.

The next ceremony is June 27, and Mike’s working on 20 more urns for
it. “It warms my heart to be able to do this,” he said. “It’s all well worth it
to me. And I know those urns will be here long after I’m gone.”

But he’s not done yet. Mike says he’s going to keep building these urns
until he’s no longer physically able to do so.

“One of my favorite sayings is: ‘The person who says it can’t be done
should not interrupt the person doing it.’”

#lifeatatt