Homeless vet to be buried with full military honors

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Homeless in our area are mostly anonymous, people we just see in the street.

But one homeless veteran who recently died is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

Jerry Black grew up in foster homes in West Virginia and Arizona before he enlisted in the Navy in 1980 at the age of 18.

His service ended two years later. That's all we really know about him before the 50 year-old was found dead in a shed in Knoxville last month.

It's happens all too often, people who served our country ending up on the streets.

"I think one of our Gold Star Mothers has put it best, the words homeless and veteran should not go together, those words should never be associated with each other. But unfortunately, they are," said Jeff Berry, the location manager of Berry Funeral Home.

No one knows how Recruit Seaman Jerry Michael Black went from the seas to the streets.

It could be attributed to post traumatic stress disorder or his turbulent childhood. Maybe it's that no one has found anyone from his family, and there's not even a picture except his state ID.

"Truly indeed, Mr. Black was homeless, he was a homeless veteran," said Berry.

Thanks to the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program and the Berry Funeral Home, black will have a final resting place at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery.

"If we didn't do this, then their burial would probably be an unmarked grave, or a grave that does not give them the proper respect," said Berry.

He may not have had any known blood relatives, but he will have family at his funeral. There will be members of the National Guard, Naval Reserve, Marine Corps, and the Patriot Guard Riders.

"Well we're going to represent the family that doesn't exist. But of course, on the other hand too, we're going to stand in honor of the service that he did for our country," said Deb McKay, with the Patriot Guard Riders. "I think of them as part of the family because of everything they've gone through."

Jerry Black's funeral is set for 11:30 Thursday at the East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery on John Sevier Highway in Knoxville. He will be buried with full military honors.

Everyone is invited to pay respects, and stand alongside the veterans during the service as his family.

McKay estimates about 75% of Knoxville's homeless are veterans.

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