When US Army veteran Lawrence Kays died of heart disease at Christus St. Vincent Hospital in Sante Fe on Nov. 16 at age 78, there were no family members gathered around him. Nor have any turned up to claim his body in the months since. Indeed, Kays' body sat at the hospital's morgue for a month following his death. Then the Rivera Family Funeral Home stepped in. Not only did the funeral home agree to accept Kays' body, but it has donated $6,000 for a full military funeral and burial at Santa Fe National Cemetery on Friday rather than waiting another two years to see Kays buried as part of the Forgotten Heroes Burial Program, reports the Sante Fe New Mexican.
While the funeral home did track down a distant cousin of Kays, she knew little about him and chose not to take possession of his body. "We wanted to be able to honor him in the proper way," says funeral home manager Raymond Lucero. Firefighters, police officers, and representatives of veteran support groups plan to attend Friday's event alongside a general from the Army National Guard, but Lucero tells KOAT it would be a "blessing" if members of the community turned up as Kays goes "home with his brothers and sisters" of the military. Kays, who served as a private first class for 20 months from 1956 to 1957, "is gone but not forgotten," Lucero says.