It was feared last week that veteran Paul "Ed" Hammock of Columbia would be laid to rest alone.
On Wednesday, the people of the community answered that dismal possibility with a resounding display that showed he would not be forgotten.
On the streets near Parker-Millard Funeral Home on Ash Street, hundreds gathered in a display of gratitude and respect for the 71-year-old Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force veteran, who died April 11 at University Hospital and for whom no family initially could be located.
Not eager to see someone who served our nation be laid to rest alone, the funeral home arranged full-military honors for the airman and invited the public to a limited gathering of support outside, due to the coronavirus.
As news of the memorial began to spread, three immediate family members were located in other states and were able to travel here to say their final farewells.
In attendance were Hammock’s brother Jerry Hammock, his daughter Jenny Nebling and son Adam Hammock, who were all presented with an American flag, as is tradition.
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Adam Hammock said it had been 18 years since he had seen his father, who he described as a very private person who rarely spoke of his military service. Delivering brief remarks during the ceremony, he choked back tears, saying only that he missed his dad and that he loved him.
"I hadn’t seen him in so long," Adam said. "The military always shows up for its people. It’s really amazing what they have done here."
Owner Reid Millard said Parker-Millard always strives to honor our nation’s veterans, and such was the case with Hammock.
After the medical examiner’s office notified the funeral home that no family could be located, he too was distraught and began working to arrange a military funeral for Hammock.
"We live in the heart of America and it’s a great place to be," Millard said. "We watch out for each other, we are there for each other, and when we have a service like this, we are going to make sure we honor our veterans in a proper way."
At the ceremony, Rev. James Gray offered prayers for the late veteran, drawing on the book of Timothy and Paul’s dedication to serve Christ with the dedication of a soldier.
"Now Lord you have brought all of us together to honor his service," Gray said. "Thank you for all of these military men and women, boys and girls, who came to say we took that oath, Paul, just like you, to serve our country. Well done."
A three-shot volley was fired to honor Hammock’s service, as was the single-bugle call of "Taps."
Following the presentation of the flag to members of the family, dozens of members of the Patriot Guard and other veterans service organizations escorted the military Humvee carrying him to the Veterans’ Cemetery at Jacksonville in northern Randolph County.
Hammock served in the United States Air Force from 1968 to 1972 and was based at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Service records show he was a Protective Equipment Specialist, charged with maintaining the safety of equipment used by airmen and women during the height of the Vietnam War.
Hammock was awarded the Air Force Good Conduct Medal and the National Defense Service Medal during his service.
Many people in the crowd did not know Hammock but could be seen wiping away a tear or two during the ceremony. Countless veterans attended the service, which Veterans of Foreign Wars state commander Troy Williams said there were "no words to describe."
"It’s an unbelievable turnout of people who just came and didn’t know this veteran," Williams said. "It was heart-touching and the response is amazing."