The last journey in the lives and deaths of four veterans started Monday.
The journey comes after years of combat and death, freedom and desolation – for four men who fought for their country forgotten for years.
There was a prayer in an office that serves the dead and American flags, and wonder from so many how such great men could not be wanted.
Four small urns filled with ashes left the York County Coroner’s Office Monday morning, an American flag draped across them as they rested in the back of an SUV.
Tough Vietnam War veterans Johnny Free, 64, and Bobby Lockaby, 77, saluted the men who lived with dignity and died with indignity – until now.
“We don’t forget our soldiers,” Free said.
“These men deserved better,” said Lockaby, “and now they are getting it.”
The journey ends Friday – the 70th anniversary of D-Day – with a funeral with full honors for these four men nobody claimed in death:
“I am honored that these men who served their country will get the dignity each deserves,” said York County Coroner Sabrina Gast.
Members of the Missing in America Project picked up the cremated remains Monday from the coroner’s office. The ashes will be buried at Fort Jackson National Cemetery in Columbia.
“These men served honorably, they were Americans, and Americans don’t forget their veterans,” said Jim Fisher, 65, a Vietnam War veteran and officer with the Missing in America Project. Since 2007, that organization has identified the remains of about 2,000 American soldiers and arranged for proper burials.
Fisher and several volunteers made the trip to Rock Hill on Monday to collect the remains.
“This is a way to honor these men,” said military wife Michele Johnson, a volunteer with Missing in America.
Friday’s service also will honor three other veterans from around the state in the seventh such ceremony since 2012, when a new state law allowed coroners to release unclaimed remains of military veterans to veterans groups for burial.
The burials will be attended by the Patriot Guard, made up mainly of veterans, and several other veterans groups and honor guards. American Legion posts from North Augusta and Chapin will assist and help the Patriot Guard lead a procession.
Some members of Rock Hill’s Army National Guard 178th Combat Engineer Battalion – veterans of Afghanistan who are at Fort Jackson this week for annual training – will stop training for a while so these soldiers can help America recognize these men who died alone.
Starting Friday, after years of sitting unclaimed in a coroner’s office, they will no longer rest alone – for eternity.