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Veteran receives proper military burial in West Virginia

Families and friends across three different states are making sure a Vietnam veteran is getting a proper final thank you at the West Virginia National Cemetery. (WCHS/WVAH)

Families and friends across three different states are making sure a Vietnam veteran is getting a proper final thank you at the West Virginia National Cemetery.

Jerry Elwood Williams passed away this past spring at 71-years-old. Those who knew him tell Eyewitness News he was faced with homelessness throughout much of his life.

Susan Whitlatch said Williams helped raise her when she was a child after marrying her sister. After he returned from the war he faced issues that made him separate from their family.

"They raised me when I was very young," Whitlatch said.

The two lost touch for decades. Whitlatch and her sister got a call back in April he had passed away in Tennessee and was homeless for more than 30 years. His blood relatives were not planning a funeral for him. Whitlatch decided he needed a proper thank you for his service.

"When veterans came home from Vietnam it wasn't a happy homecoming, " Whitlatch said. "We will never let that happen again. This is why we do what we do."

Whitlatch is a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a nationwide volunteer organization that works to make sure veterans receive a respectful and honorable service. With the help of Patriot Guard Riders across three states, Williams' ashes were escorted from Tennessee to West Virginia. Hundreds of people stopped to thank him along the way.

"He needed to come home where family was," Whitlatch said. "I want to thank everyone who is helping me tell the story of a man who was forgotten for so long. He needs to have the burial he deserves. We will never know his life's journey, but we know how it ended. His journey is complete now."

Whitlatch said she has been amazed at the response along the journey. She has had people stop traffic for them to get through, and drivers pull off to purchase gas for them. Thursday evening the riders came through Elkview on Interstate 79. Dozens of people waited to greet them and thank Williams for his service.

"None of us know him," Vietnam veteran Marlin Moss said. "But we are going to honor him however we can. He deserves that."

Williams will be laid to rest Friday at the West Virginia National Cemetery. A funeral is planned for him with full military honors.

To gain access to veterans services across the state visit The Department of Veterans Assistance.

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