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Veteran once buried in a pauper grave now moved to final resting site at Fort Mitchell

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer - 1/8/2024

Jan. 5—A cool breeze whispered through the towering pine trees at Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Alabama Thursday afternoon where family, friends, and brothers in arms gathered to say goodbye to SPC. Tommy Lee Harvey Jr.

Taps rang through the cemetery as the American flag that draped over Harvey's coffin was lifted, folded and presented to his sister Betty Jean Harvey-Glance.

"I told them I would not accept the flag unless they have him here, and I meant it," said Harvey-Glance.

Harvey had previously been interred in a pauper grave at Porterdale Cemetery in Columbus despite his veteran status.

Harvey died in December 2017, though his family didn't know of his death until 2020 when they were searching online for another family member's death. Harvey-Glance said their family had been looking for her brother since 2018.

"We were all looking for him. We never stopped," she said.

However, the process to reclaim her brother and bury him in a military grave had only just begun. Harvey-Glance said she had to prove Tommy Glance was her brother by obtaining a death certificate and other documents.

"It was hard on me," she said.

Harvey-Glance saw Patricia Liddell on television and saw her efforts to provide proper funerals with military honors for veterans. Liddell is a retired Master Sergeant Patricia Liddell, who currently works as American Legion Post 333's national recruiter in Columbus and helps exhume and bury veterans who were formerly buried in pauper graves.

"Nobody, I don't care if you're not in the military, you should not be in a paper box," said Harvey-Glance.

Liddell said that today was a "dream come true."

"I've been fighting this since April, and every time I thought I was to a point to where I could get him moved I hit a block in the road," said Liddell.

, "I thank the Lord for allowing us to move him."

Who was Tommy Lee Harvey Jr.?

Harvey was born to Tommy Lee Harvey Sr. and Willie Bell Ware on October 22, 1947, in Tuskegee, Ala., according to a funeral program.

Harvey graduated from Central High School in Phenix City as part of the class of 1966 and went on to serve in the United States Army for three years starting in 1967.

Tommy lived in Atlanta for a while and had a 25-year career at Atlanta Steel located near Conyers, Ga., according to the program.

His family told the Ledger-Enquirer that Tommy loved music, playing the guitar, dancing and other hobbies.

"When he got ready to be on his own, and don't want to be bothered, that's what he did and we understood," said his sister. "But he would always come back, but this time he didn't come back. I knew something had to be wrong."

She said efforts were made by the family to try to find Tommy, but they couldn't figure out what happened to him.

"He was a good person," she said.

Pauper graves for soldiers

When veterans are buried in pauper graves in Columbus there are challenges to move them to a military cemetery.

For a typical military funeral for a homeless or indigent veteran, Liddell will contact the funeral service at Fort Mitchell and schedule the funeral and then have an acquaintance send out a press release to other veterans so they can give their fellow soldier a proper send off.

"This soldier served his country and he needs to be sent home in a proper manner," Liddell said.

Liddell had to get the family to locate a form that has the veteran's service history.

The family must then fill out an affidavit allowing for the exhumation of their loved one. Afterwards, the funeral service company must take it to the health department, which must approve the exhumation.

In the end, Harvey found his final resting spot.

Tommy's brother-in-law, Robert Glance, said that having Tommy buried in a pauper grave felt like he had been "discarded" and "thrown away."

This story was originally published January 5, 2024, 9:37 AM.

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