Honored To Serve Those Who Have Served: Jim Rudolph

Jim Rudolph started his career in 1980 working at local funeral home. In 2000 he founded Veterans Funeral Care (VFC) – the nation’s first branded funeral home focusing on serving veterans and their families. Through its provider network, VFC now provides services to veterans in 18 states.

The Untold Stories Behind Those Who Served:

Jim Rudolph will never forget the day that his high school assistant principal, Jerry Ruelf, called his funeral home. Ruelf’s desire to have Veterans Funeral Care handle his arrangements, despite living two hours away, left a lasting impression on Jim Rudolph. Little did Jim know that this encounter would reveal the remarkable story of Mr. Ruelf's bravery and sacrifice during World War II. It made Jim realize the importance of truly understanding the military experiences of veterans and how it can profoundly impact our ability to serve them.

Jim Rudolph sat down with Mr. Ruelf and his wife to make their pre-arrangements, he handed Jim his DD-214.  (Document that is a certificate of release or discharge from active duty) Glancing over it, Jim noticed something remarkable, Mr. Ruelf had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and a Purple Heart. This revelation puzzled Jim since Mr. Ruelf was not a pilot. The confusion on Jim’s face prompted Jerry’s wife to proudly share the untold story of her husband's heroism.

A Hero's Tale:

Mr. Ruelf was aboard a glider that was shot down over Germany, resulting in the pilot's death. Despite having no training as a pilot, he skillfully landed the glider and saved the remaining men on board. Upon landing, he astounded everyone by speaking fluent German and invoking the Geneva Convention, ensuring their safety as prisoners of war. Unbeknownst to the Germans, Mr. Ruelf was not only an American veteran but also a Jewish man born in Berlin. His courage and quick thinking ensured the survival of every man on that glider.

Unveiling the Importance of DD-214 and learning their Story:

This powerful encounter led Jim to reflect on how many remarkable tales like Mr. Ruelf's are missed by simply glossing over the DD-214 document. Jim acknowledged that himself, had been guilty of this oversight, merely passing it on to my administrative assistant for military honors arrangements.

 "If you truly want to grow your business in the veteran market, I recommend that you immerse yourself in their world." - Jim Rudolph

To truly connect with veterans and their families, we must go beyond superficial gestures. Learning to decipher a DD-214, familiarizing ourselves with the military alphabet, and understanding the VA (Veteran Affairs) death benefits veterans are entitled to are essential steps. Engaging with veterans can be as simple as hosting a food truck event or displaying magnets with their branch of the military on the hearse that carries them to their final resting place.

The Power of Tribal Marketing:

In today's consumer-driven world, loyalty to a specific funeral home is no longer guaranteed. Families are willing to explore various options to find the right place for their loved ones' final tribute. This is where tribal marketing comes into play. By honoring veterans in the best possible way and speaking "their language," funeral homes can capture the hearts and loyalty of military families consistently.

Bridging the Gap: Going the Extra Mile

While many funeral directors believe they provide superior service to veterans, it's crucial to recognize that we often don't know what we don't know. Do we ask every caller if they are a veteran, or do we wait until the arrangement conference to find out? Merely flying a flag or shaking hands with veterans wearing identifying hats may not be enough. Although it's a good start, there is always more we can do to show our appreciation and patriotism.

To illustrate Jim's point about what a military family is looking for from you. He shared a story on how he handled a funeral for a paratrooper who served in Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division in WWII. When Jim met with the family, he mentioned to the veteran's brother what an honor it was to serve his brother and the veteran's brother asked Jim why. Jim responded that his brother was in a unit that was the basis for the show Band of Brothers. Jim asked him if he was aware of this. He responded, with a grin on his face, “Oh, I know what he did, but I wanted to see if you did.”

How to make an Impact:

Your knowledge and awareness of their history and the needs of veterans who have served makes a difference. You may be the only one who shares with a deceased’s veterans family the medals their loved one was awarded. You may be the one who reassures them that non-combat service is still service to this country. You are now the one who President Abraham Lincoln referred to when he said, “To care for him who shall have borne battle, and for his widow and his orphan.” Thank you for serving those who have served.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of The Independent® magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.

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