JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – For years, Donna Sams and April Nave knew Brian Milby as “Doc” – a quick-witted former Army medic they each called their friend.
But on Thursday, each said goodbye to a family member.
Milby, 66, died on Nov. 15. When he died, Sams said, authorities couldn’t locate Milby’s family.
“The coroner’s office was going to send him to the county for a pauper’s funeral and that’s when I said, ‘Oh, but no,'” Sams said.
When Nave, a former neighbor of Milby, heard about her friend’s death, she contacted Trinity Funeral Home, who put her in touch with Sams.
The two women, who had never met each other, then began fundraising for Milby’s military funeral.
Sams said Milby somehow “slipped through the cracks” and didn’t get the benefits of a funeral through the Veteran’s Affairs office. They began fundraising and found help from local groups like Rolling Thunder, the Vietnam Veterans and the American Legion.
They got donations from the community to help cover the funeral but said a large part of the funding came from Code of Vets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans.
Thursday afternoon, dozens came to the funeral at Mountain Home National Cemetery.
“It was just amazing to get to see so many people here to remember somebody that society’s forgotten,” Sams said. “We just couldn’t let him be forgotten.
“He deserved a proper military funeral and that was what our goal is, and I think it was absolutely beautiful.”
The women said they are placing Milby’s items in storage in the event his family is located. They say they believe he has two daughters, and think he could have a brother who is still alive.
They said they know Brian was born in Amityville, New York, and enlisted in the army somewhere in Florida.
Nave said she’d known Brian for about 10 years, while Sams said she’d known him for about five years.
Both women said their children learned to call him “Papaw,” and Milby received regular invitations to holiday events and vacations from both of his friends.
Through the pain of losing their friend, the two women found another friendship.
“We’re good friends now,” Donna said, hugging April. “We’re adopted daughters from Brian.”