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Strangers Hold Memorial, Pay For Veteran's Burial

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Complete strangers gathered to say good-bye Wednesday at a touching memorial in Dallas for a veteran who left no known relatives.

Those in attendance were moved to pay for a burial service including full military honors. They were mostly Patriot Guards and nurses from Methodist Richardson Medical Center who gathered at the DFW National Cemetery to bury a man who never uttered a word to any of them. A man with no known family; adopted in death.

"We're a family," said Mark Littell, Ride Captain of the Patriot Guard, referring to the military and the caregivers. "The nurses in the hospital talked about being part of Mr. Davenport's family because his family wasn't there. And we feel the same way."

The Mr. Davenport he spoke of was Air Force Sergeant Robert Earn Davenport. A 68-year-old Vietnam veteran sent unconscious to the hospital from a nursing home... who spent his last hours fighting cancer, unaware of the new care surrounding him.

We all spent time going in and just being there with him," nurse Linda Bilobran told CBS 11 News. "Because even though somebody can't speak to you doesn't mean they can't hear you. It doesn't mean that they can't feel your touch."

Fellow nurse Kelly Spatz agreed. "Just being a nurse -- we are advocates for our patients. It's very heart-rendering for our nurses to take care of patients that don't have family members that are there."

When Davenport died no one claimed his body. A note on his chart said he wanted to be buried at DFW National Cemetery. But without any other information no one knew if he was really a veteran or if he qualified to be laid to rest here. They had to secure a form DD214, proving Davenport was honorably discharged.

Nurses and administrators began collecting money for a proper service even as hospital administrators tried to nail down a service record. It took days, but this morning Robert Davenport was laid to rest with full military honors. The flag from his coffin given to his new hospital family, specifically to Monica Vehige, the hospital's assistant vice-president, who accepted temporary conservatorship of the flag. "It was neat to be able to experience that," she said adding, "I wish Mr. Davenport had a family member to receive it."

The search for family will go on, the Patriot Guard will see to that. To hopefully one day give that flag to a blood relative and complete the family circle.

Follow Bud Gillett on Twitter

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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