TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — They risk it all for our country, but some veterans who die on our soil don't get their due honors in death.
A local program is trying to change this, so no soldier is forgotten.
When Joel Lewis, an Air Force veteran died unexpectedly in November at his apartment at the Veteran's Village in Tallahassee, he was turned over to the medical examiner's office.
"We could not find a relative to actually claim him. So Culley's kind of adopted him in a program we call the Disenfranchised Veteran Burial Program," said Lou Langnehs, Culley's MeadowWood Funeral Home Office Manager.
Culley's MeadowWood Funeral Home's program is designed specifically for veterans without financial or family support to give them a proper burial with honors. The program covers all expenses incurred for the burial.
"Whenever we get the opportunity to make sure a veteran receives the appropriate honors for his dedicated service to the United States, we will try to do it as often as we can," said Langnehs.
Like many vets, Lewis suffered from PTSD. He served in the United States Air Force as a medic in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield from '90 to '93 and upon his return became estranged from his family.
"The things that come back to haunt them so to speak, that's where the difficulty and where they need assistance," said Langnehs.
Eventually, some family was located. Two children living with their grandparents who were able to attend Monday's service, along with a scattering of friends and volunteers.
All fellow veterans attended as well. They provide honors for veterans interred at veteran's cemeteries across the Big Bend. William Hyler, a friend of Lewis, says he had a kind heart.
"I saw him more than once, when he had very little to eat of his own that he would give part of it to another veteran and then a stray cat that happened to be wandering around and then he'd eat," said Hyler.
A hero's honor, and heartfelt goodbye, for a for a man who may have otherwise have been forgotten.
"It's the right thing to do and every veteran deserves honors when they pass," said Jim Geuin, Big Bend Honor Guard Coordinator.
Leon County Assesses if there is no family or financial support for the veteran and if they qualify for dignity memorial to cover burial costs, they are referred to Cully's MeadowWood Funeral Home.
Monday's service was at Veteran's Memorial Cemetery. The average cost of a funeral for a veteran is about $2,800.