ST. PETERSBURG, Florida - American Legion Post 14 in St. Pete could also be called Jerry Meekins' second home.
Meekins would get there early each morning, excited for his duties as Commander. That's why his family and friends packed the Legion Post on Saturday. He passed away earlier this week after a battle with cancer, and they wanted to hold a memorial celebrating the Vietnam veteran's life and his work in a very public debate with Spirit Airlines.
In April, the 76-year-old had bought a ticket to New Jersey to help his daughter as she recovered from surgery. But two weeks later, he found out his terminal esophageal cancer had compromised his immune system too much to fly. Doctors told him he had about two months to live. He tried to get his ticket refunded, but Spirit said its policies wouldn't allow that.
"It's not about the money," Meekins told 10 News during an interview in April. "I said, 'Well, make a check out and donate it to Wounded Warriors. They said they can't do that.'"
Meekins never gave up. Veterans groups across the country supported him through the fight. The airline eventually gave him a refund, and also made that donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.
"The angrier or more upset he got with Spirit Airlines, the more he took action and he stood his ground," said his fiancée, Carol Gray. "And I think it added at least a month to his life."
For the dozens of services that chaplain Jim O'Shea has presided over, this may be one of the hardest, honoring a longtime friend, and a veteran who never stopped serving for others.
"I just hope that if I ever have to, I have the courage to do what he did," O'Shea said.
Meekins will be laid to rest at 10:45 a.m. on Friday at Bay Pines National Cemetery.
Previous stories about Jerry Meekins and his fight with Spirit Airlines:
- Dying man protests airline over refund policy
- Spirit Airlines CEO 'empathetic,' but says no refund
- Spirit Airlines refunds Jerry Meekins after community backlash