Local veteran dies without family to claim remains

PELHAM – American Legion Post 555 has been working since Monday, Oct. 14, to try to provide a proper burial for a local veteran who recently died and has no known relatives to claim his remains.

On Oct. 14, Columbiana resident Donna Thompson contacted Post 555 Commander Kenneth Paschal in search of help to bury her friend, Edward Lewis Prokes Jr. According to Thompson, one of Prokes’s neighbors found him dead in his Columbiana home on Oct. 9. Thompson was contacted when he died because she was listed as the emergency contact on his apartment lease.

Thompson said Prokes, 87, was a solitary man who lived alone. She met him about 25 years ago when he needed help using a computer.

“We just stayed in touch after that,” Thompson said. “Me, my husband and our two kids were the closest thing he had to family. We would always have him over for the holidays because we didn’t want him to be alone.”

Thompson said Prokes was married once but never had children. He was a Shelby County resident of about 30 years and served in the Airforce from 1950-1954.

“I knew that he wanted to be buried in the Alabama National Cemetery,” Thompson said. “He took pride in his military service, so I’m just trying to do the best I can for him.”

Thompson was able to obtain documents proving that Prokes served in the military, which means he qualifies for burial at the Alabama National Cemetery. The National Cemetery covers the cost of the grave plot, headstone and an American flag to place on the casket.

After searching through several documents at his home, Thompson said she did not find any information suggesting he had life insurance. His only source of income was Social Security payments and he had no savings. She was at a loss as to what she could do to help her friend, so she called on Post 555 for help.

Paschal said this experience has been very eye-opening for him. He said he’s realized there aren’t a lot of resources to help veterans who die and don’t have relatives. Through donations, Paschal has raised the money needed to bury Prokes.

Funeral services are being provided by Good Shepherd Funeral Home in Montevallo, his casket was donated and several Post 555 members have contributed toward other burial costs. Post 555 Chaplain Tom McMahon will be the funeral officiant.

“We’re just trying to make sure he’s laid to rest properly,” Paschal said. “Post 555 members will be in attendance at the funeral and we want to extend an invitation to the community as well as to other veteran organizations.”

An exact burial date has not been determined, but Paschal said it will likely take place during the week of Oct. 21. Once a funeral date is determined, it will be shared with the public.