COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - How do you say good-bye to someone you've never met?
Dozens of people did just that Friday morning at Fort Jackson National Cemetery.
William Lynch is the Program Director for Dignity's Homeless Veteran Burial Program at Caughman-Harman Funeral Home. He said, "We all in our life will attend a funeral for someone we know. It's very rare we attend a service for someone we don't know."
Friday morning, with strangers all around him, Army Specialist Ronald Baker Thomas received a full military burial.
Kershaw County Coroner David West was there. He said, "I never knew the man, but it's a great honor for this to happen like this."
Thomas joined the Army in 1966, organizers said. He was honorably discharged three years later.
West said Thomas passed away on September 8th of this year. The coroner's office spent weeks searching for next of kin. When they couldn't locate any family, the community stepped up by organizing his services.
Dozens of people showed up. Some of them veterans themselves, to say farewell.
"I'm hoping one day when someone see this they say, 'That was my dad or my uncle,'" West said.
Thomas is the seventh unclaimed veteran in the Midlands to receive a ceremony like this is the last year and half. Lynch said, "We are not going to forget those who served us even though they may not have someone to take care of their services for them."
West was presented with the flag draped over Thomas' casket at the end of the funeral. He said it's an honor. "Maybe one day somebody can come forward and we'll give it to them. If not it will be left at the Kershaw County Coroner's Office and be there after I leave."
Even though no one knew Thomas, they did have a special message for him. His tombstone will have the words “You Are Not Forgotten” on it.