• Veteran receives a hero's farewell Monday


    GASTONIA, N.C. - A veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars received a hero's farewell on Monday.

    He was found dead in his home when it caught fire on Veteran's Day.

    A group of strangers stepped in to make sure he received a military burial.

    Nearly 60 veterans on flag-draped bikes and countless other military men and women saluted Sven Erickson's coffin as it arrived at Salisbury National Cemetery.

    His friend Linda Pryor cried during the brief service, but they were actually tears of joy.

    "It's just beautiful. It's not enough words to explain how beautiful this is," said Pryor.

    Neighbors found the 78-year-old dead in his Gaston County home on Veteran's Day.

    Investigators said Erickson dropped a cigarette and started a small fire in his home.

    No one claimed Erickson's body.

    "Would have been sitting in the coroner's office on a shelf, unclaimed," said Pryor.

    Sgt. Steve Dover, who investigated the fire, asked Eyewitness News for help in finding family.

    A man who knew Erickson used to stay with Linda Pryor and her husband, and she still had his copy of his honorable discharge.

    That is all the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veteran's Burial Program needed to offer a free funeral to the sailor who fought in Korea and Vietnam.

    "He always said the military would take care of him," said Pryor, and they did.

    The Patriot's Guard provided the escort and the Veterans Honor Guard from Gaston County offered their salute.

    "Even though he had no blood family, we are his family and we are here to show our honor and respect and give him the dignity that he deserves in his last hour," said Patriot's Guard Keith Arbuckle.

    They hugged and thanked Pryor for her friend's service.

    "He would have just been blown away if he could have seen it," said Pryor.

    Erickson's neighbors said in 20 years he never had a visitor from outside of the community.

    Neighbors said they are happy that he is now buried in a place where they can visit him any time they would like.

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