(WBIR - Knoxville) There are more than 60,000 homeless veterans throughout the country whose remains are never claimed, but because of the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program, four Knoxville warriors were able to receive the proper burial they deserve.
PFC William Edward Smith, PVT Ronald Lee Mills, SPC Raymond S. Bowling, and Airman 2nd Class Gene L. Miller were all laid to rest with full military honors on Monday.
Smith served from 1968 to 1969 in the U.S. Army. Mills served from 1978 to 1980 as a tank diver in the U.S. Army Tank Command. Bowling served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1970. Miller served in the U.S. Air Force from 1961 to 1965.
Among the dozens of people at the veterans' burial at the East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery (2200 East Governor John Sevier Highway 168, Knoxville) was John Mills, brother of Gene Mills. He said he found out about his brother's passing about a week and a half ago.
"You lose touch with your own family a lot of times," Mills said.
Mills told 10News his veteran brother passed away from cancer and was found deceased inside his Clinton Highway home. Jeff Berry, general manager of Berry Funeral Home, believes Mills passed away in September.
Four boxes filled with the veterans' remains sat on two tables inside inside the cemetery's chapel. Of the four, only one was bronze with the remains of PVT Ronald Mills. Mills had no home.
"Mr. Mills passed away in January of last year and he was truly homeless. He passed away under a bridge here in Knoxville so he died very alone and probably very cold," said Berry.
Since about 2008, the Berry Funeral Home has buried 16 military veterans whose remains were unclaimed.
The Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program helped provide proper burials for the veterans. In addition to Berry Funeral Home providing its services, the Knox County Regional Forensics Center identified each man and discovered they were once warriors for the United States. The Dignity Memorial Homeless Veteran Burial Program was found in St. Louis in 2000 and has conducted more than 1,600 services for homeless veteran across the country. It's one of several efforts to honor and support our nation's veterans and active military members.