Field Trip to Battle of Secessionville

GOOSE CREEK -- A Marine whose ashes were abandoned in a storage unit and put up for sale at a flea market was honored and laid to rest Friday.

The small gray urn with the Marine Corps medallion was placed near the flags and soldier's cross in front of American Legion Post 166. About 200 people crowded the lawn for the ceremony, which included an honor guard with rifle volleys and taps.

"It's not just him, it's all of us," John Lehman of Summerville, a Navy veteran, said through tears. "Nobody knows who he is, what he was, anything about him. It's what he represents."

Mike Spisak of Goose Creek stood near the urn and saluted.

"This is a comrade, and this could be anybody's son or father," Spisak said. "This is my way of saying thank you."

The ashes had been in an office at the post for the past year. Their identity has been a mystery.

The box was part of the contents of a storage unit that had been sold because the bill wasn't paid, according to Post Commander Ron DeMello. A vendor at the flea market was selling the urn among the other items. A woman saw the urn and told the vendor he couldn't sell human remains. She took the box and gave it to a Marine from Parris Island, hoping he would know what to do with it. The Marine dropped off the box at the American Legion post. The volunteer on duty that day didn't ask his name.

The post has 1,300 members, but none of them had any leads. Funeral homes typically put some sort of metal disc with an identifying number inside the urn. A local funeral home director inspected the ashes and found no identification inside, DeMello said.

The gray box looked weathered, as if it were kept outside. The bottom was scuffed, with black scraps that looked like

epoxy, as if the box were glued down at one time.

Fellow Marines from all walks of life showed up Friday to say goodbye.

Max Noble of Houston, a former Marine, was visiting his daughter in Moncks Corner when he heard about the service and decided he had to be there. He wore a gray Marine T-shirt.

"He was a Marine, so it's the least I can do to pay my respects to him," Noble said.

About a dozen men and women wore yellow Marine Barracks T-shirts. They were in town for a reunion of Marines who were stationed at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.

"We thought it would be a good show of support to come down and honor a fellow Marine," said Trent Godwin of Daffney, Ala. "Even though a lot of us have been gone a long time, you carry being a Marine with you all your life. And to hear about a lonely fallen comrade, no matter what the circumstances, we just wanted to be there for him."

Somebody laid red roses by the grave after the service.

After almost everybody else had gone, William and Linda Phillips of St. Stephen stood by the urn while he quietly read a poem called "Miss Me But Let Me Go."

"He's a Marine, and he needs to be honored," Linda Phillips said. "He's our son, too."

William Phillips was wearing a medallion with a picture of their son, Sgt. John Paul Phillips, who died in Iraq Aug. 16, 2006, after his vehicle ran over a roadside bomb.

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