Dozens of Strangers Gather to Honor Unclaimed Veterans Buried Among "Family"
Nobody knows how long Joseph Williams lived under the Blossom Street Bridge in Columbia, South Carolina. His body was found on April 1, a day or so after he died of natural causes. He was alone.
Speaking with The State, the Richland County Coroner's Office referred to Williams as "an enigma." He had no family and managed to live 58 years with a minimal paper trail. An exhaustive month-long search found only that he hailed from Washington D.C. and spent three years in the Army.
Williams' service guaranteed him a military burial, paid for by the federal government. Brotherhood and respect guaranteed he wasn't alone.
Earlier this month, The State reported that nearly 80 people attended a funeral for Williams and another unclaimed veteran, Danny Ballantyne, at Fort Jackson National Cemetery. The men were laid to rest with full military honors.
"They are previously unclaimed," William Lynch, chairman of the Homeless Veteran Burial Program, told the paper. "They are now claimed. They now have family and now they will be at rest with their brothers and sisters."
Several veterans' groups reportedly came together to honor the fallen. About 40 members of the Patriot Guard Riders provided the remains with a motorcycle escort. They led two hearses to Fort Jackson National Cemetery, where dozens stood waiting to salute the caskets.
Jenell Torbit, whose husband serves in the Air Force reserves, said she felt compelled to bring her four children after learning about the ceremony for the unclaimed veterans at her church.
"Because we are Christian, we believe we are all family and united," she told The State.
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Williams and Ballantyne joined more than 6,200 veterans buried in the cemetery.
"The stories of men and women who answered the call when given to them to defend our nation, our constitution and our way of life; to defend it here and around the world," Sam Boone, a retired U.S. Army chaplain told the paper. "No amount of money will buy that plot. It is only purchased by the service and sacrifice to our beloved nation."