JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – About 250 people gathered at Jacksonville National Cemetery on Friday as an Army veteran who spent his last years homeless on the streets of St. Augustine was laid to rest with full military honors.
John Meade Jr., who served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1968 and was honorably discharged, was remembered not only for his service but for the lives he touched in St. Augustine. When he died in November at age 73, no family members could be found.
Bill Dudley, chairman of the Veterans Council of St. Johns County, which conducted Meade’s ceremony and burial. “We represent John’s family. We are his family.”
“We know little of John’s life,” said a man who spoke at the funeral.
The St. Augustine Police Department described Meade as a “unique soul” who connected with everyone he met. But he lived “off the grid” for years.
The SAPD Outreach Team exhausted all resources to find information about Meade’s family history without success, but that search led them to uncover Meade’s military history, ensuring that he received the honors he was due as his burial.
Dudley, a veteran himself, accepted the flag on behalf of Meade’s family.
“People who saw him liked him,” Dudley said of Meade. “He was a very outgoing individual. He talked to people.”
Meade went every day to eat at a St. Augustine pizza restaurant.
“He would come in every day and have his meals there and run a tab and, after several months, he’d come in and pay his tab,” Dudley said. “These are just things we didn’t know about him. He was college-educated. We didn’t know that.”
For Dudley, Meade’s story comes with a lesson for all.
“When you see a veteran, thank a veteran for their service,” Dudley said. “Do it while you can still thank them and honor them and not just after they have passed.”
Asked about the people who showed up for the funeral Friday, Dudley said it means that so many people turned out.
“It means a lot because this is what veterans do. Veterans do not let veterans get buried without their family being there," Dudley said.
One of the mourners, Harry Shaw Jr., fought in the D-Day invasion in World War II. He said he never met Meade but was proud to be there to see a fellow veteran off.
“This is the greatest honor I could ever have,” Shaw said. “This here, you could never forget. And believe me, this is a big part of my life, being here.”