A treasured memento is now back in the hands of its rightful owners – a veteran’s burial flag, which was recovered in a Pick-Your-Part salvage yard.
Employee Jerry Thomas found something in a Nissan Quest he was cleaning out. He and his fellow employees knew immediately it didn’t belong there.
"We all agreed, it's got to go back to the family. We were on a mission," Thomas told News 4.
They knew whose coffin it had once draped in honor; there was a funeral program tucked inside the carefully folded American flag.
The veteran was Chandra Louise Fentress, a U.S. Army, Persian Gulf veteran. She died in 2013, at 42 years old.
Thomas and his coworkers tried and tried but couldn’t locate her relatives. They called the funeral home and the Army. They tried everything they could think of, then they reached out to News 4.
News 4 reporter Nancy Amons located the veteran's daughter, Porshe Walker, in Knoxville.
Walker said she had inherited her mother's car. It broke down and she couldn't afford to fix it. It was towed – she didn't know where – and she didn't realize the flag had been left in the car until News 4 told her.
She claimed it on Veterans Day at the salvage yard where it had almost been overlooked.
"It's just really special to have it back, because it's a part of the family. It's a symbol of who she was, and what she believed in," Walker said.
Thompson, the employee who found the flag, greeted Walker with a hug and presented her with the rescued treasure.
"Just so happy to get this back to you and your family. It's truly an honor and a blessing. I'm glad you're here," Thomas said.
Thomas is a third-generation veteran himself. His grandfather served, as did his father, and his brothers. Thomas said anyone who loves this country would have known the flag needed to go home where it belonged.
“It would have just popped them right in the face. Hey, this isn't supposed to be in here,” he said.
“This is the last thing that was over her body. So it's very special to be able to keep this. It makes me cry but it also makes me happy," the veteran’s daughter told him.
Fentress was fragile in the last five years of her life. She had MS.
Walker spent her teen years as her mother's caregiver. As her mother dwindled in size, Walker easily picked her up to carry her.
“She called me Hercules,” Walker said.
"I feel blessed to have this. If I could touch my mom, this is a part of being with her. A part of touching and just feeling that joy. But also the sadness. Yeah, I love her so much," she added.
On Veterans Day, a veteran’s burial flag was presented to her family for the second time – a reconnection to the past, a testimony to the persistence of employees who recognized that a symbol so treasured must be returned where it belongs.
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