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Bronze Star veteran gets marker for pauper's grave

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

BUFORD -- It was a story that could have died with John DeFoor last year.

But a friend's concern unearthed the history of a war hero, whose name is now etched in stone thanks to a couple of congressmen and the Patriot Guard Riders.

Decades after saving two men in the Vietnam War, DeFoor, a Toccoa native living in Doraville, died last year.

After the deaths of his parents as a child, his wife and his sisters, he lost touch with his few remaining family members.

A friend, Chris Brown, reached out to the Patriot Guard to try to get a military funeral, but DeFoor was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave before the group could confirm his service.

On Saturday, though, DeFoor got the honor that his friend believed he deserved.

About 50 Patriot Guard Riders surrounded the grave, holding American flags, as a headstone bearing DeFoor's rank and the medals he won in Vietnam, as about 20 members of his family mourned.

"Many of us here didn't know John DeFoor," said the group's chaplain Murl Gwynn. "The one thing we do know is he was an American patriot."

By marking DeFoor's grave, Gwynn said, "We are declaring, 'Listen up, universe, ... Here lies a benefactor of peace and safety who made your nation strong and your children free.' ... We patriots say, 'Listen up, America, here lies a hero.'"

Congressman Rob Woodall worked with his colleague Hank Johnson to get the gravestone from the Veterans Administration.

"We've done a lot in Congress this year, none of which is as important as what we do today," Woodall said of unveiling the marker.

While the Patriot Guard could not locate Brown to invite him to the ceremony, they did locate DeFoor's nieces, who were escorted from Toccoa by the riders.

"It's just so neat. I never dreamed it would be this big," Joan Renfroe said of the ceremony honoring her uncle. "It makes you feel good about your country."

After a volley from a Georgia National Guard honor guard, Renfroe was given an American flag. A flag was also given to Toccoa Mayor Janice English, who will fly the Star Spangled Banner at City Hall on Memorial Day and Veterans Day in honor of DeFoor.

"Maybe somewhere from a lofty place, he knows what is happening today," English said of the soldier, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient.

The mayor said she was thankful the riders worked to arrange the ceremony.

"I can't imagine the time and the effort and the love being shown today for someone you didn't know," she said.