"He's back where he belongs. He loved this area. And I know he's happy," Norma Head said about her Great Uncle, as she looked across the San Joaquin National Cemetery in Santa Nella.
Norma has been searching for a long time.
"It started in 1977 when I started doing our family genealogy," she said.
Her father had mentioned he had an uncle he'd lost touch with over the years.
His name was Harold Cochran.
He'd served in the merchant marines during World War II. But after that, no one really knew where he went.
"I had my aunt's trunk, my great aunt, his sister. And I found a letter that he had written her in 1943. He was San Francisco," Head said. "He said I can see the mountains and I can see the sea and that's where I want to be. And that's when I said, oh California."
And that's where he died in 1953, at the age of 45 from a heart attack.
He was buried in Merced County, in front of no family, no friends and no one that knew about his service to our country.
"Because there were no family or friends that would take charge of his body, he was placed in basically the indigent cemetery here in Merced County," Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said.
Years later, his great niece would start looking for him.
"All of his immediate family are dead. Everybody that remembers him is dead. So all I have are the letters he wrote his sister," Head said.
Years after that, she'd end up at the San Joaquin National Cemetery in Santa Nella, giving her uncle Harold the proper goodbye he deserved from the start.
"I love him. I wasn't even born when he died. So to know that I've come to know him, he was real to me," Head said.
Norma says she's an avid rock collector, and so was her great aunt, who was Harold's sister.
So she brought some things to put in his casket, including some of her favorite rocks and family pictures.
"I just wanted him to know his family was out there and he was missed and he was loved," she said.
Harold Cochran never married nor had any children.
But Norma says he'll always be family to her.
"It's bittersweet. But we've done right by him, I think at this point," she said.
"I found him. That brought be a lot of peace and it still does, that he's found and he's no longer lost."
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin credits investigators with the coroner's office and Norma's never–ending determination to find her great uncle, for making Tuesday's burial possible.
After spending the day in Merced, Norma went back to her home–state of Texas.
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