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Old 02-11-2005, 16:58 PM
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GyBill GyBill is offline
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Homeless Vets Buried With Full Honors

Homeless Vets Buried With Full Honors
Associated Press
February 11, 2005

DALLAS - Harold Dean Harris died homeless and destitute in an abandoned building and might have gone to a pauper's grave if not for the military papers found in his wallet.

An Army veteran, he was buried Thursday with full military honors. No friends or family came, and no old Army buddies swapped stories. But it was a soldier's farewell, the morning air broken by a 21-gun salute fired by a group of paralyzed veterans.

Harris, 63, and another homeless Army veteran, Hayden Glyn Kresge, 53, were laid to rest at Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery because of a partnership between the Veterans Affairs Department and a nationwide funeral home network that has paid for military burials for more than 300 homeless vets over the past two years.

Very little was known about either man, both of whom served two-year Army stints decades earlier. Military officials could not immediately say where the two men served. Neither had relatives or friends at their brief, back-to-back ceremonies.

A few VA officials came to pay tribute, and a group of homeless men acted as pallbearers.

"Without you who came out on this cold day, these men would have had to go to their graves alone," said Cindy Simpson of Dignity Memorial Funeral Providers, the funeral home network.

Disabled American Veterans chaplain Cynthia Burks received the flag from Harris' flag-draped casket. Moving with military precision, Michael Riley, deputy commander of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, wheeled forward to give Burks three polished brass rounds from the rifle volleys, representing duty, honor and country.

"When one is in need, we'll be right there beside them," Burks said tearfully. "It was an honor to accept this flag."

The Rev. Alton Jones, a former homeless veteran himself, officiated at both services. He called on the few gathered to look ahead to a life without sickness, sorrow or homelessness, and sang a verse of "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder."

Jamie Jewell, another funeral home representative, said neither man had as much as a photograph among their belongings. But "obviously, Mr. Harris was proud of his service," she said, "because he had his papers in his wallet."

Veterans are eligible for Dignity burials if they were homeless and honorably discharged and no one comes forward to claim the body. Dignity pays costs not covered by the VA, such as the casket and a hearse. Volunteers stand in for absent loved ones.

"I really feel every veteran deserves full military honors, especially homeless veterans who die alone," Riley said. "No matter what their walk of life was after they left the service, the fact remains that they did serve our country. To me, it's the highest honor a person could do."

Kresge, who served from 1971 to 1973, died Jan. 21 after being taken to a Dallas hospital. He suffered from hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and diabetes. A chaplain knew of his military service and passed the information on.

Harris' body was found Jan. 14 in the abandoned building where he apparently was living. He suffered from hepatitis C. He served from 1961 to 1963.

"A veteran, when he's homeless, goes through pride and doesn't want to contact family and loved ones and let them know how bad things have gotten," Jones said.
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