Forgotten Veteran Finally Rests In Peace On Christmas Eve

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- "One veteran forgotten is one too many.*"

On December 16th, Tina Alejos notified 13 News her close friend veteran Charles Thompson died in a Topeka hotel in August and that no one from Thompson's family had made funeral arrangements. His body has lain in the Shawnee County morgue for the past 4 months, a fact that stunned local veterans.

"Somewhere the system failed Charles. He was forgotten either by choice or just by his destiny," said Jimmie Bechtel.

After 13 News contacted county officials and veteran groups about Thompson's situation, Kafer Peele from the Kansas Commission of Veterans Affairs in Topeka told Shawnee County Coroner Don Pojman about 2 laws dealing with the final care of unclaimed bodies of veterans, so that Thompson could receive his much earned military burial with honors.

Christmas Eve, Coroner Pojman assisted in transporting Thompson's body to McGiley and Sheil funeral home in Kansas City, which provides memorial services to unclaimed veterans at no cost.

"Which is a very important program for our veteran community,": said Richard Carroll with McGiley and Sheil funeral home.

And on this Christmas Eve, veterans gathered at the Leavenworth National Cemetery to salute one of their own.

"He's going to be at peace and now I can be at peace and know that he was taken care of finally," said Tina Alejos.

"To be out here today especially for our Vietnam veterans it does bring a tear to your eye and when the taps are played I don't think there is anyone standing these lines that doesn't well up a little bit," said Denise Farmer from Patriot Guard Riders in Fort Riley.

"We still feel a strong bond together even if we weren't together in combat," says Bechtel.

Honored, respected, and laid to rest in peace-Tina says Charles Thompson will never be forgotten.

"I love him and I miss him and he is in my heart everyday," says Tina.

The veteran whose body lay in a Shawnee Co. morgue for the past four months will soon - finally - arrive at his final resting place.

In August, Charles Thompson died at a local hotel. Ever since, his body has been at the morgue, waiting for someone to come claim it.

That is until one of his friends, Tina Alejos, contacted 13 News upset that Thompson had not received the honorable veteran's burial she said he deserves.

"It just rips out your heart when you know someone who is sitting there touched your heart 5 months ago and you know he is gone and nobody is stepping up," Alejos said.

She told us how made quick friends with the 64 year-old Thompson and how he gave her the necklace that still hangs close to her heart.

"He was lovable," she continued. "He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it."

Spurred by her call, we reached out county officials and veteran groups about Thompson's case. Then, on Thursday, the news came.

Kafer Peele of the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs in Topeka told us he had contacted Shawnee Co. Coroner Don Pojman and told him about two laws dealing with the final care of the unclaimed bodies of veterans.

Next, Peele found a funeral home, which is part of a network of 1,800 funeral homes, cremation, and cemetery providers across the U.S. and Canada, that takes care of unclaimed veterans for no cost.

Now, the Shawnee Co. Coroner's Office will take Thompson's body to McGilley and Sheil Funeral Home. From there, it's on to Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.

On Christmas Eve, at 1:30 p.m., Charles Thompson will receive his much earned military burial with honors.

Sadly, though, Thompson's body wasn't the only one lying in the morgue unclaimed. In fact, Pojman said there are still another dozen there, four of which may be veterans - a fact that stuns one Topeka veteran.

"I tell you what bothers me is that these are people who have signed on the line to stand on the line when necessary and they should be respected instead of unclaimed and unhonored not able to rest then there's something wrong," said Rev. Francisco Figuroa, Chaplin of American Legion Post 400.

Figuroa isn't the only one speaking up either. As we contacted several public officials, all of whom were upset at Thompson's plight:

"We have a number of homeless vets. We have a number of people that have difficult separation from their families," says Governor Sam Brownback.

"Unacceptable! These people put it all on the line to serve their country and that is simply unacceptable," said U.S. Representative Lynn Jenkins.

"From a personal stand point, I'm deeply saddened that that can happen," says Major General Lee Tafanelli, Kansas Adjutant General.

As for the other unclaimed bodies in the Shawnee County morgue, Peele said he would try to determine if they were veterans and locate a DD form 214 to move forward with their proper burials as well.

State Veteran Commission officials told 13 News the procedure local coroners are supposed to follow is to notify a national cemetery in this case Fort Leavenworth when there is an unclaimed body of a veteran that needs to be buried.

Shawnee County Counselor Rich Eckert sent us a note that Coroner Pojman was following procedure and cited a state law dealing with unclaimed bodies, but veterans officials told 13 News the federal law is more specific in calling for all veterans to be buried in a national cemetery.

* - said by Rev. Francisco Figuroa, Chaplin of American Legion Post 400.