ANNVILLE, Pa. — Dozens braved frigid temperatures on Tuesday to honor a man they've never met: military veteran Thomas Bruner.
"No one likes to see anybody go but...we're doing it honorably, and it makes me feel real good," said Commander Nathaniel Smith of the Pennsylvania Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
Bruner served in the U.S. Navy from 1981 to 1985. During his time in the service, he received several awards including two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons and the Navy Expeditionary Medal.
In December 2021, the veteran, who lived in Lancaster, died at the age of 68.
With few family members, Bruner's remains were unclaimed, and he did not receive a burial service or honors. The VFW, along with other veteran organizations, found out about his situation and quickly made calls to organize an interment ceremony.
"It's a real honor to ensure our shipmates are sat down the right way," said Smith.
The ceremony was held at the Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Lebanon County. A few friends who attended said they still can't believe he's gone.
"I don't think I'll grasp the concept that I'll never see him again," said friend Charlie Albera.
Others reminisced about his gift of gab.
"He was hard to get away from once he started talking...We can sit for two days and sit there and drink coffee, and he would not be short on stories," said Gerald Stauffer, who was Bruner's neighbor.
Friends say they're thankful for the opportunity and are hoping to see their friend "on the other side."
"I take comfort in the fact that there's a day that will come that we will meet again," said Stauffer.
According to a report from Department of Veteran Affairs Inspector General's Office, there are thousands of veterans who have not been claimed across the country.