ORLANDO, Fla. - On the south side of the Orlando VA Hospital’s campus is Central Florida Veterans’ Memorial Park. The park overlooking a lake is where dozens gathered to honor two servicemen they’d never met.
This is their final mile," read David Santiago. "Private Ethander Maldonado. Sergeant James Henry White." The two men were left unclaimed by family or friends leaving them alone for their burial, so their fellow servicemen stepped in.
"It’s your brother," said David Allen. "These are our brothers and are sisters. We all signed on the same dotted line."
Santiago and Allen are members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. They along with roughly two dozen of their members came together to honor the soldiers.
Allen started this Final Mile ceremony more than three years ago. It was the thought of his fellow brothers in arms dying alone that made him want to go the extra mile. "As a veteran, I felt like no veteran funeral is complete without military honors," said Allen.
- Florida residents need to work this many hours per week to afford a place to live, study finds
- Florida woman driving golf cart on I-95 arrested for DUI, troopers say
- Father suspected of killing wife, kids inside Orlando home, then himself, police say
Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association has teamed up with VA hospitals across the state to escort fallen veterans to their final resting place.
"We all work together and provided our role defending freedom in the United States and around the world so it’s an honor," said Chief Chaplain of the Orlando VA Medical Center Ron Skaggs. "Not only to be a chaplain and service as the chaplain but to be here at that time for these veterans."
The bikers along with members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, Orlando Police Department and others will escort Private Maldonado and Sergeant White over 80 miles to the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.
Once at peace, they will never be without family again.
"We keep a roster of our guys that we have claimed and we go visit them. We make sure there’s a flag on their graves and we make sure there’s a wreath at Christmas," said Allen. "We make sure that they’re remembered."