KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery has become the final resting place for four unclaimed Tennessee veterans. However, related or not, these veterans now have a family to claim.
It’s a family who came from the surrounding areas of East Tennessee. Each new family member says they were happy to be a part of the service that took place Thursday, showing the honor they believe each veteran deserves.
The four veterans are Steven Dale West, a Seaman Recruit, who served on the USS Halsey from 1975 to 1978; Thomas Patrick Bush, an Aviation Boatswain’s Equipment Mate who served on the USS Coral Sea from 1971 to 1975; Private William Frederick Purdy, who served in the U.S. Army from 1974 to 1975; and Private Second Class Kenneth Henry Mercier Jr. who served in the U.S. Army from 1976 to 1979.
“We don’t know what circumstances brought them to be in the situation they were in, but we don’t care. They wore the uniform; they deserve the respect,” said Larry Hale, the assistant state captain of East Tennessee Patriot Guard Riders.
The president of the East Tennessee Veterans Honor Guard, Stuart Hall, said they hold over 300 funerals alone per year for veterans, but those that go unclaimed are held a little closer to their hearts.
“The motto of all of the branches of U.S. Armed Forces is that we never leave anyone behind,” Hall said. “That we, if any way possible, will provide honor for any honorable discharged veteran period.”
The community came together as a way of showing the veterans that they were not alone.
“[The four veterans] got nobody, but today they had us,” Hale said.
Four more unclaimed veterans have already been found and they are planning to honor them next year.