COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Hundreds of people – some from nearby, others from far away – journeyed to Fort Jackson National Cemetery Friday morning to send off a man most of them didn't even know.
"I've lost so much," said a tearful Pamela Longwood, from Forest Acres. "I've lost my mom. I've lost my two granddaughters. My daughter went home with the lord, and I know how important it is for family to see someone there supporting them. It means a lot."
69-year-old Dennis E. Reidy from Lexington County was laid to rest with full military honors in front of Longwood and many others.
"It's a great ended to a very sad story," said Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher.
The sad story first captured Fisher's attention back in January. That's when Reidy died homeless – in a plastic box – tucked in the woods on the edge of a Lexington park. A 15-year-old discovered his body.
"When I picture him wearing that University of South Carolina jacket laying there, it's just an image that I'm never going to get out of my head, of course," Fisher said. "In my office – all my employees – we've taken this one personally. We take a lot of cases personally, but this one has been special."
Ever since then, Fisher and her staff worked hard to give the homeless man an identity. She first found out he graduated from the University of South Carolina. Then, with the help of Sheriff Leon Lott, who knew Reidy, she learned he was a Richland County deputy for a time. She also found out that he was a veteran of the Vietnam War.
She also tracked down his few family members left, including his sister, so they could join her and the others at Fort Jackson National Cemetery to say goodbye.
"Oh, it was such a great goodbye. A great goodbye," said Diane Pryslak, Reidy's cousin from New York.
Beyond the questions of why he died alone, how it could happen in the first place, and the wishes of "if we only knew" and "if we only could have helped," Fisher said she and others now have solace after hundreds of people stopped what they were doing on a beautiful Friday to bury a stranger.
"It gives us hope, and that's all we have is hope," the coroner said.
Also laid to rest were U.S. Army Veteran Glenn Duncan Jr. and Airman First Class Raymond Gerard.