GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Last week, the body of homeless veteran, Tom Cole, was found in a wooded area off South Elm Street in Greensboro.
On Tuesday, about 80-100 people attended a military-style funeral for him. His children, brothers and sisters, fellow homeless people who knew him from his time on the streets, fellow veterans and police officers were among those who attended the service.
Cole was a homeless Vietnam War veteran. He took it upon himself to spend the last eight years of his life as the unofficial caretaker of Union Cemetery in Greensboro. He setup a camp and guarded the graves of his fellow veterans, polished the markers and picked up trash. Cole even convinced the city to put up a flagpole at the cemetery to honor the fallen soldiers buried there.
"It's just normally unheard of, but he has gone above and beyond the call of duty to look after his fellow man," Honor Guard Commander Howard Breedlove said.
"He was more of a protector than anything else. It was like God sent him down here to protect people. He would care for anybody that he met," friend Melissa Byrd said.
After hearing about Cole's death, some kind-hearted people in the Triad rallied to give Cole a proper military-style burial, complete with a 21-gun salute.
"He was charismatic. Witty. He had a lot of different sides to him. He was a very dynamic person," Cole's son, Ryan Cole, said. "For him to have been honored like this, it's just amazing. I know myself and my family are really grateful...You wouldn't have ever expected him to take the road that he did. That was the road he chose."
"It's an amazing thing to see all of this. It's a great thing. I'm just glad so many people did come together," Yvonne Green, a friend, said.
Greensboro Police Officer K.D. Wilson said, "Every time he saw me he would stop and salute me and say, 'Semper Fi," even though I wasn't a Marine." Officer Wilson said he always enjoyed running into Cole.
Cole's family said they were honored and humbled by the outpouring of support from the community.
"He would be really happy to know that we all got together like we did today. It was a reunion. I only wish he could have been here. He is, though, in his way," Ryan Cole said.
Cole was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Greensboro.