A pauper's grave at East Porterdale Cemetery in Columbus was no place for the remains of Stanley Eugene James, a fire inspector at Fort Benning and retired U.S. Air Force technical sergeant.
Five months after he was buried as a pauper, James was disinterred on Thursday at East Porterdale and given a new gray coffin draped with an American flag to replace a pine box. His remains were placed on a memorial fire truck on Friday at the county morgue on Beaver Run Road and given a police escort with flashing lights to the Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Alabama.
At the cemetery were airmen from the U.S. Air Force with a bugler playing "Taps," and a bagpiper rendering a version of "Amazing Grace." Fort Benning firefighters served as pallbearers, joining an Army chaplain and family members for
the brief 2 p.m. service.
The military honor for James, 53, was made possible through efforts of Raymond Harrington, assistant fire chief at Fort Benning, the Muscogee County Coroner's Office and representatives from U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop's office.
The service brought smiles instead of tears to members of Stanley's family and his friends.
"It means so much to us because we have been through a lot," said Georgina James, the ex-wife of James from Tampa, Fla. "We had to have his body disinterred to fight to bring him here."
Harrington said it all started when he tried to get a headstone for James as a pauper and was rejected.
He then tried as a disabled veteran and sought help from Bishop's office.
"He helped pushed the way through for us," Harrington said of the 2nd Congressional District lawmaker.
The immediate family chose to let the state bury James after he died suddenly on May 16 at St. Francis Hospital.
Harrington said he and co-workers called him "Superman" as an inspector on post.
"He was a very positive influence at the fire department at Fort Benning," he said.
Harrington said he and James were working as civilian firefighters in 2006 at a military installation in Kuwait before they crossed paths again in 2010 at Fort Benning. James worked in the prevention and inspection branch.
"He knew his job," Harrington said. "There is no doubt about that. I missed the mornings speaking to him every day. When you walk into work every day, he is there. He had a dry sense of humor and he was very dedicated."
Georgina said her ex-husband grew up in Tampa, where he attended public schools. After graduating high school, she said he joined the Air Force in 1977 and served 22 years.
The couple had been married for 13 years before separating four years ago.
"He was a wonderful father, a hard working man," she said.
While in the Air Force, James received the Airmen's Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and others.
Lawrence James, 12, was presented the flag that draped his father's coffin.
Georgina said James found a way to give even after he died. She arrived at the hospital hours after he died and learned that James was an organ donor. His skin was donated to the Firefighters Burn Foundation.
Harrington recognized the efforts to honor James and get him to Fort Mitchell.
"He is with fellow veterans now," he said.