Veteran gets military funeral after waitress sparks movement - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Veteran gets military funeral after waitress sparks movement

Posted: Updated:
SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) -

Dozens gathered on Wednesday morning at the Veterans Administration Medical Center National Cemetery Annex in Salisbury this morning to say goodbye to a man most had never met.

And for a former waitress at a Concord Waffle House, the service was both a tribute, and the fulfillment of a dream.

Mandi Gardner had worked at the Waffle House in Concord for 11 years and was very fond of long-time customer Mike Pardalis.

Pardalis was a quiet man, sometimes not speaking at all, but he left a huge impact on Mandi.

She says sometimes Mike would doze off in a corner booth. But he was nice and he was a long-time regular customer.

"Rough around the edges with a marshmallow middle," is how Mandi describes the man she knew for many years. "But he was a sweet man. He's not going to just walk away from you with your keys locked in a car standing there with a baby."

On April 10, Mike had a heart attack and died alone in his van. His body laid in the morgue at NorthEast Medical Center for nearly two weeks. No one called to claim his body.

"No memorial, there's no headstone, no goodbye, nothing for someone to track down and find," Mandi told WBTV.

That was until Mandi started a fundraiser to raise the money needed to claim Mike's body and provide him a respectable service.

The story went viral after it aired on WBTV and many of you stepped up to help Mandi make her goals happen.

"We thought he was just going to be discarded, but that's not the case," Gardner told WBTV in the moments after the service.

Chaplain Bill Griffin and veterans from VFW Post 24/23 in Indian Trail in Union County provided the Honor Guard while the Patriot Guard escorted the body, served as pall bearers, and stood in tribute.

McEwen Funeral Home put it all together after working with Mandi.

"We believe that every veteran is due and honorable and dignified burial," said Funeral Director Corey Tinker.

The traditional touches were there...the 21 gun salute, Taps, and one of the most touching moments...the flag that covered Mike's coffin was precisely folded, then given to Mandi.

"That's the last peace of him that we get to keep, and I get to hold on to that," Gardner added.

It brought it all full circle. The effort that started with a few dollars in a booth in Waffle House, now completed in a sacred place of honor.

"Look what I learned," Gardner added. "Look what he taught me because he taught me a lot in this."

Tinker told WBTV that they actually have a special program to provide services for indigent veterans, and he says they probably hold one service every month.

Copyright 2014 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Powered by WorldNow