Deceased Homeless Vet Inspired Many In Greensboro

5:55 AM, Sep 19, 2013   |    comments
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Greensboro, NC -- The death of a 68-year-old homeless man has touched a community in a way you rarely see.

Earlier this week, Greensboro police found Tom Cole's body in a wooded area on South Elm Street. They say he died of natural causes.

The Vietnam War veteran who ended up on the streets is now being remembered as a man who saw it better to give than to receive.

"He was a good guy. He was sweet," said Jenny, a woman who worked across from where Tom has taken shelter over the years. "You'd always get a good morning from him," Frank Toledano said fondly.

Tom wasn't just any homeless man.

He was a Vietnam War veteran - A Marine who believed it was better to give than to receive.

"We drive in to work and we'll see him picking up trash, just walking around," said Toledano said.

Tom was no stranger to the people on South Elm Street.

"He would look out for me. He would make sure that as I walk to my car that I was safe," said Jenny.

For eight years, the 68 year old tied tarp to trees in a wooded area next to Union Cemetery and called it home.

He polished the markers, picked up trash and took care of the veteran's cemetery.

"And that was one of the cool things about Tom, he was always making sure that the cemetery of fallen soldiers was clean and well kept," Tolledano explained. "He said he was a veteran and every fallen soldier needs a flag so what he had done was put up a stick with a flag to make sure the cemetery had a flag."

Tom later urged the city to put up a real flag pole. It stands not far from where police found his lifeless body this week.

"We were hoping it wasn't him," said CJ Sim, a man who works across the street from the cemetery.

"It's just a shame that he had to die alone and that he didn't know how much he even meant to me," Jenny said through tears.

But for all the love, not many knew his story: that Tom was from New York, that he had 7 children, 3 ex-wives and that he served in Vietnam, according to Donna Harris, a manager
Atlas Fence who became one of Tom's best friends.

In her lobby, Harris has boxes stacked in a chair. When WFMY News 2's Faith Abubey asked why, she said that was where Tom always sat and she doesn't want anyone else to take his place.

Several people are showing their support for Tom through donations.

Some cemeteries and even the Marines have donated burial plots, Harris said.

The group on South Elm Street is working with family members to give him a proper military burial.

The Greensboro cemetery superintendent says Union cemetery is not staffed and he's grateful for all the work Tom did as the unofficial caretaker.

 

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