He was an Army vet. A close friend. And now, his body has gone unclaimed

Documents show Jim Sands was in the military, but it's not clear when he came to the islands. (Image: Official US Army photo)
Documents show Jim Sands was in the military, but it's not clear when he came to the islands. (Image: Official US Army photo)

EWA BEACH, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - This Memorial Day, thousands came out across the state to honor service members who have died.

But no one honored James Sands. Eighty-six days after his death, no one has even claimed his body.

The 72-year-old Army veteran was struck by a van while trying to cross Fort Weaver Road in Ewa Beach on March 4. He later died. Records show he had just been discharged from the hospital and was trying to cross with his walker.

Sands was identified by the Honolulu Medical Examiner through fingerprints. And that's where the trail grows cold.

No one has been able to reach his family. No one even knows how.

"If somebody I love died, or somebody that was a relative of mine, I would want to know," said Charlotte Carter, an investigator with Honolulu's Department of the Medical Examiner. "And I feel that anybody out there would want to."

It was that drive — to help Sands get a proper sendoff — that spurred the department to take the unusual step of releasing Sands' name even though his family has not yet been reached.

"We normally would not release a name or any information because family should be notified before the public is notified of his death," Carter said. "However, we have been unable in all our extensive searches to find his family."

Sands is one of dozens of unclaimed bodies the medical examiner's attempts to reunite with families each year. Out of 1,000 bodies the office handled last year, 41 of them went unclaimed.

But Sands' case has struck a nerve with his friends in Hawaii.

They believe he should be buried among other veterans at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. But nearly two months after his death, no family has come forward to lay him to rest.

Even his closest friends admit they don't know much about Sands' life prior to his move to Hawaii.

Manase Huakau met Sands in 1991.

"Sometimes we feel guilty we never asked him, 'You have relatives or anything like that?' No," Huakau said.

"I was wondering who was taking care of this and who was gonna go through all of this because somebody had to do some homework on him," said another friend, James Smith.

A briefcase found inside Sands' home in Waianae holds a past most never knew about him.

A birth certificate shows he was born at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. Photographs show that he joined the Ponca Military Academy in Oklahoma and played football and basketball there.

Newspaper clippings he kept indicate he was a guard.

He later joined the U.S. Army Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia and completed an airborne course in 1963.

Articles from back then show him holding the new M-79 grenade launcher. A yearbook places him in Airborne Class 40.

There's also an old photo that reveals he may have a sister.

Smith says Sands seldom spoke of her.

"She definitely doesn't know that he passed away because they weren't keeping in contact at all," Smith said.

Despite extensive research, the medical examiner's office has hit roadblock after roadblock in the case.

Now the clock is ticking. If family can't be reached, Sands' remains will be sent to a mortuary for cremation — with no fitting funeral or a chance for his family to say goodbye.

If you know who Sands was or can claim his body, click here.

This story will be updated.

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