Dozens of friends, family bid farewell to once unclaimed Army veteran
KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Army veteran whose body went unclaimed for months has been granted a final resting place at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery.
James "Jim" Sands moved to Hawaii from Texas decades ago and made several friends at the beach and at the bars. But when he died last spring — no family members came forward.
After a story about Sands aired on Memorial Day, someone tracked down his sister in Riverside, California.
His sister, Nicki, released his body to the military so he could have a military burial. And on Friday morning, dozens gathered to bid their final farewells.
"He was a great guy. He was a wonderful person. He had a great sense of humor so I've been told," said Chaplain Maj. Raymond Hawkins.
The McPhees, a couple that hadn't seen Sands in about 40 years, were among those who wanted to say goodbye.
"He was very outgoing, very funny guy. He had one practical joke and that was falling out of his chair backwards. He did that a lot," Denny and Lynda Lou McPhee said.
The 72-year-old was struck by a van and killed trying to cross Fort Weaver Road in Ewa Beach back in March.
For months, the Honolulu Medical Examiner's Office could not locate a family member to claim his body. But his story spurred strangers to help find his family.
"I felt compelled to just go on my computer and see what I could figure out," said Deborah Wright.
Wright never met Sands, but wanted to help and attend his funeral to pay her respects.
"I was able to figure out who his sister was," Wright said. "I sent her a Facebook message and then I also notified the Medical Examiner's Office through Facebook of her information."
Curt Calhoun, a Navy vet, said he met Sands at the old Anna Banana's in 1985.
"I'd never seen anybody in that good of shape that drank like that," Calhoun said. "So, I bought him a beer, he bought me a beer, and the story went on and on."
Many of Sands' friends, who now consider themselves family, were amazed at the crowd of about 40 people.
"I was really surprised to see (so many people). I thought I was at the wrong place … I thought it was just gonna be me and my buddy," said James Smith, a friend of Sands.
"But (it's) very good to see more people reached out to say hello and goodbye," Smith said.
Sands served in the Army from 1962 to 1965 as an Airborne Infantryman, and his friends say he belongs in Hawaii alongside his fellow veterans.
"We're just so happy that he was able to be put to rest with a military funeral," said his neighbor Nancy Jones.
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