Sunday, September 30, 2007

Strangers step in to save vet’s ashes

The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday Sep 30, 2007 15:27:21 EDT

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Strangers, including a veteran’s group, have stepped in to save the ashes of an Augusta Army veteran that former neighbors say were headed for a trash can.

With the widow of William Dillard in jail on drug charges, the couple’s former apartment was undergoing an eviction earlier this month when neighbor Patricia Haley noticed a “greasy” cardboard box of ashes and a folded American flag being carried out.

She took the ashes, eventually turning them over to the local American Legion chapter.

Dillard was an Army veteran who died Feb. 13.

“Even if he wasn’t a veteran, how can you just throw someone away?” said South Carolina National Guard Staff Sgt. Holli Stevenson, whose mother recovered the ashes. “We bring people home from the Middle East dead and in pieces in better condition.”

Augusta-Richmond County Marshal Steve Smith said his office gives plenty of warning before evictions, but noted that the veteran’s widow, Diane Lawrence, was in jail at the time the eviction was scheduled.

He said the ashes never were in jeopardy.

“At no point in time were the ashes ever put somewhere where something could happen to them,” Smith said.

The American Legion, members of the Marine Corps and Richmond County deputies were part of a motorcade that transported the ashes to an Augusta funeral home, where they will be stored until a family member claims them.

Dillard’s mother was located in Miami, said American Legion Chaplain Paul Knox. She plans to claim the ashes, but injured a knee while packing to come get them, he said.

“I feel that’s a weight lifted off of me now,” he said of finding her.

Knox said more information will be known about Dillard once he sees his military discharge papers. He said he wants Dillard to receive a funeral with full military honors.

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