The man did so much for his country in the military in Vietnam - and for other veterans until he died in 2004 - that it took two plaques of bronze to get all of Ken Walden's achievements at his grave.
Vietnam combat awards, Purple Heart, Airborne, and more.
Veterans Day for Fort Mill native Ken Walden was not a holiday. It was a holy day.
Somebody had recently put some silk flowers in the bronze and copper flower vase that adorns Walden's plaques in the small veterans' section at Bass-Cauthen Funeral Home's Rock Hill Memorial Gardens cemetery in Rock Hill.
They stuck a tiny American flag in there, too.
Until the vase was stolen. Walden's vase and dozens of others at the cemetery - including many from veterans' graves - were snatched.
The flag that Walden fought for lay in the dirt.
"It is sick is what it is," said Jane Lane, Walden's girlfriend for years until he died. "Ken spent his whole life trying to help out other veterans. He helped them get benefits and even medals that they deserved. To do this before Veterans Day just makes me want to scream."
A 62-year-old Rock Hill Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient - a landmine almost killed him in March 1969 - knew Walden well.
Michael "Hambone" Douglas is not happy any veteran's grave was harmed - but Walden was a friend and fellow Vietnam vet.
"Anybody who would do this you could call trash, a maggot, a snake," said Hambone.
Walden was an unmistakable veterans advocate, with his long hair, black leather vest and black military beret on his head.
For years, Walden drove around York County in an old pickup truck adorned with a huge 3-foot-by-5-foot American flag on a pole stuck in one rear corner of the bed. In the other rear corner was a similar-sized black POW-MIA flag.
If he rode his motorcycle - which was often - the huge flags were on two poles leaning off the back.
All the stolen vases are an affront to the dignity of the dead.
All those veterans - with names such as DeMers and Marthers and Geddings and Rollings, Hughes and Buehring and Pickens - deserve better than a thief in the night stealing a vase to make a few bucks.
But stealing from the grave of Ken Walden just before Veterans Day is downright dirty.
Walden was a founder of South Carolina's first Rolling Thunder group of veterans, which raises money for veterans and prisoner of war/missing in action causes.
He spent years at the Fort Mill Veterans of Foreign Wars post advocating for veterans' rights and raising money for others.
He badgered politicians in Fort Mill and York County to have 24-hour lights installed at the veterans section of Unity Cemetery in Fort Mill - finally getting the lights installed just two years before his death in 2004. He was only 55.
Walden held vigils at that Fort Mill cemetery to get the lights put in, for the simple reason that for flags to stay out all night, lights are supposed to shine on those flags.
For Walden, the right way when it came to veterans - and flags and cemeteries - was the only way.
He pushed thousands of tiny American flags into the ground at area cemeteries before Veterans Day and Memorial Day each year.
And now Walden's own grave has been vandalized.
Vietnam veteran Leroy Thompson, a 61-year-old Rolling Thunder member, used the words "unacceptable" and "disrespectful" - and a lot of other tough words, too.
"Every one of those graves deserves to be left alone - but harming Ken Walden's grave is horrible," Thompson said. "If this crime calls for 25 years in jail, that isn't enough."
Walden's friends - those who worked with him for years on veterans rallies, motorcycle rides and more - vowed to have Walden's vase replaced, as well as the others at the cemetery.
The people who stole the vases from veterans' graves better hope they don't run into this group of mainly bearded, ponytailed veterans.
"Ken Walden deserves better than a thief stealing from his grave," said Barry Burke, Rolling Thunder president. "All these people deserve better."
Want to help?
Rolling Thunder's Rock Hill chapter has its annual Fallen Heroes Ride Saturday from the Rock Hill armory to Nichols Store. Registration starts at 10 a.m. For information, call 803-417-3382 or 803-789-7268.