Saturday, August 24, 2019

Vietnam veteran taken from pauper's gave to proper burial

Veterans band together to give Vietnam vet a proper burial

Fairfield Citizen
August 24, 2019

"We had so many mixed emotions because of things that had happened over the years," Carla said. "Even today, we still have so many questions and regrets that we didn't force him to talk to us. We would reach out to Billy, and he would ignore our phone calls. Or if he answered the phone and realized it was us, he would hang up on us. It was just really bad. But we loved him nonetheless."

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Billy Harold Watts was a decorated and disabled Vietnam War veteran. He had six children, 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

After collapsing in early June while home alone in Marion County, the 70-year-old lost his battle with lung cancer on Father's Day in a Columbus hospice.

Estranged from his family, no next-of-kin was found before he was buried in a pauper's grave.

But through a remarkable series of events, his family was eventually reached and local veterans were alerted. They, along with other caring folks in the community, rallied together to have his body exhumed for a proper burial: a funeral with military honors in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi.

"It was just a blessing after a blessing at the end of all of this," said daughter-in-law Carla Watts of Jackson, Tennessee.

Billy served for three years active-duty in the U.S. Marines Corps. He earned two Purple Hearts, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnamese Service Medal, a Vietnamese Campaign Medal and a Combat Action Ribbon. He was a private when he was honorably discharged in 1970 at age 21.

Although he wasn't diagnosed, Billy had symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and was "highly medicated by the VA," Carla said. "When we cleaned Billy's house out, we took 26 bottles of narcotics to the sheriff's department and turned them in."

He and his last of six wives divorced in 2001, she said.

"Billy was very much a loner," she said.
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