BELMONT, N.C. -- Strangers are making sure a Navy veteran gets the military burial he wanted after he was left unclaimed at the medical examiner’s office.
Sven Erickson, 78, died from a heart attack the day after Veteran’s Day. He lived in a trailer park in Belmont for about 20 years and pretty much kept to himself.
"A sweet, kind, wonderful man,” said neighbor Laura Smith.
Friends say Erickson battled demons including alcohol, cigarettes and a past he didn't bring up much. Investigators say Erickson was smoking when he had the heart attack and the lit cigarette started part of his house on fire.
One thing Erickson did talk about was his career in the Navy.
Friends say Erickson was once married and had two stepsons. Years ago he went with a friend to Virginia to see his family, but was told at the front door he wasn’t welcome. After that, he never talked about his family again.
"We told him since his own family didn't want to deal with him that this neighborhood is his family,” Smith said.
His body was set to be cremated and put in an urn by the state if not claimed.
Turns out the friend Erickson drove to Virginia with found his military discharge papers after Erickson died.
Those papers ended up in Gaston County Police Sargeant Steven Dover's hands.
"Finding that was key,” Sgt. Dover said. "I took an interest in him because he didn't have a family."
Dover contacted the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program. They make sure homeless, indigent or unclaimed veterans get a proper military burial as long as they were honorably discharged, which Erickson was.
Now, Erickson will be buried next Monday at Salisbury National Cemetery in Rowan County.
Unclaimed by family doesn't mean uncared about by friends and strangers.
"It was the right thing to do,” Sgt. Dover said.
The Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program has helped bury 36 homeless, indigent or unclaimed veterans in North Carolina over the last three years.