A 100-year-old World War II Army veteran from New Jersey died penniless and alone inside his Hackensack home, but a group of fellow veterans and a rumble of motorcycles made sure he wasn't alone as he was honored at his funeral Tuesday.
Dozens turned out in Paramus to say farewell to Eugene Dednam — a comrade they never met, but one they won’t soon forget.
Dednam drove supply trucks to the front lines during the push against Nazi Germany, part of what was called the Red Ball Express. After returning home, he worked at Macy's in New York City. He never married or had children, and his funeral was delayed a month because he had no relatives left to claim him.
"Mr. Dedham was a person who pretty much stayed to himself. He was very reserved, very quiet in that regard. He liked to do things on his own," said neighbor DeShaun Hicks.
The Bergen County native lived in anonymity and was identified only by a thorough search by the medical examiner. The group of veterans made sure that in death, the quiet man made a big impression — and won't be remembered as anonymous.
Proud veterans stood at the ready, their sacrifices honored along with Dednam’s at a solemn service with all the honors due from a grateful county. Dednam was buried in his military uniform he so proudly wore so many decades ago.
"He wouldn’t talk too much about what happened but he was proud to serve, very proud to serve," said Hicks. "The world needed to see this, people need to see this, that people are coming together for one common cause, and that’s to honor people that are living and that passed away."
The fact that Dedham was African American in a segregated war for freedom was not lost on Bergen County’s Director of Veterans Affairs, who himself was an Army Ranger.
"A lot of them, including Mr. Dednam, he was a Black American and he didn’t get the respect he deserved when he was home, and probably when he was serving," said Hutchinson.
But he received plenty of respect on Tuesday. Besides being buried in his uniform, Dednam's other wish was to be buried next to his parents.