Medford veteran 'shouldn't be forgotten'

Maria Ferreras called the Mail Tribune the day after David Collins was buried on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"I feel so bad he was buried down here and no one up there knew about it," said the St. Thomas resident. "It doesn't seem right. I didn't know him but it left me very sad. Someone up there has to have known this man.

"They need to be told he is gone," she continued, later adding, "He shouldn't be forgotten."

Collins, 61, was a Medford native who was laid to rest Wednesday. The former Marine was buried in the indigent section of the island's Eastern Cemetery. The funeral came 47 days after Collins died Aug. 5 of liver failure in a St. Thomas hospital.

The unfortunate delay was apparently the result of several factors, not the least of which was that the body went unclaimed. Authorities told the local newspaper they were unable to find any relatives for Collins, an island resident for 15 years. There was also apparently a bit of a bureaucratic squabble on the tiny island regarding final interment of the remains.

Storming into the midst of it all came Irene. The approaching tropical storm prompted the hospital staff to have the body removed from that facility's morgue to a funeral home. Understandably, the hospital needed to be fully prepared for the worst-case scenario in the event the storm turned deadly.

"It was disgraceful that this happened to one of our veterans," Ferreras said of the delayed burial. "It was appalling that one of our veterans got lost in a snafu, and was not cared for properly."

But she was quick to add the islanders stepped forward to do the right thing after the local newspaper, the Virgin Islands Daily News, investigated the situation.

"Everything was resolved the way it should have been — he received a full military burial on Wednesday," she said. "He was afforded all the respect you would expect for a veteran."

The hearse was escorted by flag-waving members of the Carib Riders Motorcycle Club as it crossed the 13-mile-long island, the paper reported. His flag-draped casket was carried by a Virgin Island National Guard honor guard. And a citizen soldier bugler played "Taps" in his honor.

About 20 people attended the ceremony, the paper noted.

The motorcycle club contributed $3,000 to buy the casket. The funds had been raised two years ago at a Veterans Day event organized by the club, the West Indies Corp. and Budweiser.

Club member Jim Hinz told the VI Daily News that his group felt donating the funds was only right.

"We have to step up as human beings," he said. "It seems as though that's all fading away."

Following the funeral, the military pallbearers folded the American flag draped across the casket and presented it to Abigail Munson, who was both Collins' landlady and friend. Munson, who led the battle to ensure her friend received a decent burial, told the paper that he was homeless during his first eight years on the island but rented a Frenchtown apartment from her the last seven years of his life. He always paid his rent on time, she said.

We weren't able to contact his landlady but we did reach Betsy Sheahan, owner of Betsy's Bar in Frenchtown where he was a frequent customer.

"I've known him about 10 years," she said. "He would come in for drinks all the time. He was a small man who said he was one of the 'tunnel rats' in Vietnam. He was one of the guys for whom Vietnam seemed like a life-altering experience. He drank heavily but was always very sweet."

She said he talked about having brothers, but she couldn't remember if they lived in the Medford area.

"He was one of those lovely characters who always said 'hello' to you when you saw him," she said. "He also stayed to himself a lot. But he was a sweetie."

I had no more luck finding a local relative than did the Virgin Island government. There are about 60 Collins surnames in the 2011 Medford phone book, and who knows how many others without land lines. I called a few in the book with no success. A search of the 1966-67 Polk city phone directory listed a David H. Collins, student, Route 140, White Oak Dr., Medford. Was that our guy? Who knows.

In addition reporting that he was a native of Medford, the VI Daily News had determined he was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps on April 5, 1968, in Eureka, Calif., when he was 18 years old. It reported he was a Vietnam War veteran, serving nine months and five days in combat.

It also noted that he qualified as a sharpshooter on the rifle range. In Marine parlance, that meant he scored from 210 to 219 out of a possible 250 points maximum. In other words, he was a good shot with what would have been an M-14, firing better than marksman but just shy of expert. Not too shabby.

I know this because I went through Marine basic training about a year after Collins. I feel a kinship, but not simply because I am also a native son of Southern Oregon.

Indeed, the fact he was a former Marine and a Medford native is not the issue. Rather, the point is he was a fellow human being.

As Maria said, he should not simply be forgotten. He should be remembered by someone.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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