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thedrifter
01-27-06, 07:38 AM
Updated Friday, January 27, 2006
Semper Fidelis

Friends a homeless veteran never met give him a final send-off. "As long as he served, he earned this," said Howard Hagen, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Wilmington.

By Josh Grossberg
Daily Breeze

They didn't know much about the man they came to honor: He was 48 years old. He once worked as a mechanic. He was homeless and died alone on the streets.

But David Alan Forbes was also a Marine, and that's all a group of strangers needed to know.

On Thursday, Forbes was given the honors of a military funeral. At a mortuary in Wilmington, veterans stood guard by his flag-draped coffin, while Air Force personnel and former Marines sat solemnly in the pews. He was an unknown soldier, but he was their brother.

"As long as he served, he earned this," said Howard Hagen, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Wilmington. "He is a veteran, an honorable veteran. He served our country."

For many of the two dozen people in attendance, it would be unthinkable for a fellow military man not to receive his due.

"While I don't know this Marine, I'm here to pay my respects," said Lt. Col. Eric Schnaible of the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo. "It's a fraternity. Our values are about service. I don't know this man, but he served his nation."

Forbes joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 1975. After the service, he spent 11 years working as mechanic in Tinker Air Force Base in his native Oklahoma.

Then, one day in 1991, he disappeared.

Both his parents died without ever seeing him again. The last time his only sister heard from him was after he was arrested in 1998.

"I think he was so afraid and paranoid," said Christy West from her home in Moore, Okla. "He said it was best this way. And then nothing."

West, who is battling cancer, wasn't healthy enough to make the trip to California. But she was proud that others saw to it that her younger brother received the funeral he deserved.

"I feel so blessed that strangers took it up and gathered together and honored him with a full service," West said.

Forbes died Dec. 16 in Los Angeles. The coroner told his sister that it could take months to determine the cause of death, but no foul play is suspected.

Once she learned about his fate, West contacted a local funeral home, which then called McNerney's Mortuary in Wilmington.

When they heard about Forbes, they offered their facilities for free.

"It's a community thing," manager Martin Guerrero said. "This is the first time we've done it."

During his sermon, the Rev. Lance Boloran of the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Torrance didn't say much about Forbes' life. There wasn't much he could say. But he touched upon universal themes.

"(His sister) will never have the opportunity to embrace him or talk to him, but she'll always have the love he felt for her," he said.

As the honor guard marched outside for a final 21-gun salute, Mike C. "Rambo" Miller stood tall and saluted. Miller didn't know Forbes either, but he wore a large patch on the back of his leather jacket that summed up the sentiments of everybody there:

"The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten," it said.

After the ceremony, Miller rode his motorcycle to Riverside National Cemetery, where Forbes was buried Thursday afternoon.

"He's a Marine, he's a veteran," said Miller, a retired Marine. "It doesn't matter if I knew him. A veteran is a veteran."

Ellie