EWA BEACH, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Army veteran whose body was left unclaimed at the Honolulu morgue for months will finally be getting a proper burial.
James Sands' sister Nicki says she was shocked to learn about her brother's death after being contacted by a stranger in Hawaii. Despite the saddening news, Nicki says she was touched to know he has friends who care about him so much.
Nicki said their father, older sister and mother all passed away about 10 years ago.
The family was originally from Texas but Nicki said they also lived in Louisiana and Kansas. She now lives in Riverside, Calif. and is his only surviving immediate family member.
She has agreed to release her brother's body to the Army so he can have a military burial.
It was what his friends were praying for.
"Thank God we can put a close to his story to finally give him a proper burial," said friend Manase Huakau.
Another friend, James Smith, added, "It's a blessing to hear that he's going to be put to rest the right way."
Sands was killed trying to cross the road with his walker after being released from Queens West in the early morning of March 4th. The 72-year-old veteran was identified through fingerprints.
After months of research, the Medical Examiner's Office was unable to find any family members to claim his body — until now.
J. Todd Matthews of the National Missing & Unidentified Persons System told Hawaii News Now Friday Sands' family was located and officially notified. His file has been archived after an outpouring of public inquiries to help located his loved ones.
Friends pitched in to find photos to tell a story that struck a nerve among veterans and military families.
"I looked through his pictures and I said this guy was somebody, he can't go out like this, he just can't," Smith said.
Nicki says her brother was always an adventurer and came to Hawaii in the 1960s on a whim. Photographs and newspaper clippings show he paddled for Healani Canoe Club and Hawaiian Warrior Canoe Club and raced in the Molokai Hoe.
Smith and Huakau say Hawaii is where Jim belongs.
"To be here with us, I think would be the best thing for him," Smith said. "I know he's smiling right now. I know he is. He's gotta be."
"That's the best news I've heard," Huakau added.
Nicki says she is just waiting on paperwork to officially release her brother's body.