KNOXVILLE (WATE) – There are more than 60,000 homeless veterans in the United States, many whose remains are unclaimed at their death and risk burial without military honors.
On Wednesday, the Dignity Memorial Veterans Burial Program made sure that seven Knoxville veterans received the funeral they deserved. The veterans died with no legal next-of-kin to make their funeral arrangements.
“It was an honor for us to be able to do that to be here and be a part of saying goodbye to one of our brothers,” said Don Smith with the Knoxville Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America. “It’s significant just to be here just to start with. I mean he is one of our brothers in arms an opportunity to be here and pay last respects so when that time comes they’re not alone.”
Smith says unfortunately, he knew none of the seven veterans whose remains will be buried at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.
“That’s a very sad but real occurrence that happens all over the country, our veterans that are passing away they have no family they’re still in touch with that cares about them several of them may be homeless and the last thing we want to do is for them to go out of this world alone,” said Smith.
Melissa Cox, the granddaughter of of Private First Class Claude Petree, is now mourning with a sense of relief that her grandfather was sent off with a full military honor.
“I feel relief that I finally found him, I didn’t know where he was,” said Cox. “He’s been gone since July so it’s relief just to know that he’s found and he’s been recognized and he didn’t go out of this world without being known.”
Berry Funeral Home honored the veterans with a public memorial service with full military honors. Those honored include:
- Pfc. Steven E. Womack died on Jan. 12, 2017 at the age of 67. He served in the United States Army, including two years and six months of Foreign Service. Pfc. Womack was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Sharpshooter (Rifle M-14) and Sharpshooter (.45 Pistol).
- Staff Sgt. William Donald Good died on Dec. 5, 2016 at the age of 55. He served in the United States Army for 12 years and served as a Military Policeman for seven years and six months. Staff Sgt. Good was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal (1 OLC), Three-time Good Conduct Medal, Drivers Badge(W), NCO Professional Ribbon-1, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Sharpshooter (.38 and .45 Pistol) and Army Lapel Button.
- Spc. James D. Wood died on Nov. 15, 2016 at the age of 68. He served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Spc. Wood was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze service stars and the Vietnam Campaign Medal with two overseas service stars.
- Spc. Glendon Llewellyn Swift died on Aug. 23, 2016 at the age of 67. He served with Company B. 1/38 Infantry out of the 2 Infantry Division and Company A. 1/14 Infantry out of the 25 Infantry Division. Spc. Swift was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
- Ronald Eugene Pollock died on Apr. 9, 2016 at the age of 81. Mr. Pollock served honorably in the United States Army in the 1950’s.
- Pfc. Claude R. Petree died on July 26, 2016 at the age of 88. He served in the United States Army as a gunner with Company M, 351st Infantry Reg. out of the 88th Division. He was awarded the Army of Occupation Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
- Spc. Benny Burton Solomon died on Nov. 13, 2016 at the age of 83. Spc. Solomon served honorably in the United States Army during the Korea War.
“The Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program is a cooperative effort designed to ensure that veterans who are homeless, indigent and have no family receive the honors in death that their service in life merited,” said Jeff Berry, general manager at Berry Funeral Home. “We’re honored to be able to give these veterans the dignified military service they deserve. We invite the community to attend the service to honor a man that dedicated part of his life to the service of his country.”
Working with various local agencies, the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program ensures homeless veterans receive dignified military burials when they die. Founded in 2000, the program has conducted more than 1,600 services for homeless veterans across the country since its inception.