VALDOSTA — Hundreds arrived at Riverview Memorial Garden Friday to mourn the loss of a man many of them had never met.
Vietnam veteran Richard Fatzinger, 67, passed away Oct. 13 after an extended illness. When the community heard he had no local family to attend his funeral, hundreds of new family members came to say goodbye.
“When we put this on Facebook, we had no idea we would get this kind of response,” said Hugh Ward, the hospice chaplain who served as officiant at the graveside service. “You being here is more eloquent and passionate than anything I could say today.”
In life, Richard Fatzinger traveled the world with his Air Force pilot father, Lt. Col. Charles W. Fatzinger Jr.
Ankara, Turkey, was his favorite place to live. There, Richard Fatzinger explored ancient ruins. Later in life, he searched for and collected Indian artifacts and amassed a collection of arrowheads.
Tarkenton Thompson recalled that Fatzinger would regularly give some of these artifacts to his father, Melvin E. Thompson Jr. Melvin Thompson served as Fatzinger's guardian until his own passing. Tarkenton Thompson has the artifacts in his office in Atlanta.
“Daddy always had a soft spot for people who needed help,” Thompson said. “He adored Richard and I know daddy is looking down from heaven smiling today.”
For the last 10 years, Angela Edwards cared for Fatzinger with help from her daughter, Shivan Edwards.
Angela, who was given Fatzinger's flag at the ceremony, was a dedicated caretaker who would sometimes sleep in her car outside Fatzinger's apartment just to ensure he was OK.
“The outpouring is amazing,” Angela Edwards said.
“He felt he was a loner,” Shivan Edwards added. “He always said they (the military) were his brothers.”
Fatzinger was right; not only men and women in uniform, but motorcycle clubs, local officials and people from the area who wanted to pay their respects stepped up as brothers and sisters.
Dennis Fenstermaker, a fellow Vietnam vet who served 50 years ago this year, made sure to attend the service after seeing Fatzinger's obituary in the newspaper.
“We couldn’t not come when they said family wasn’t going to be able to come,” Fenstermaker said. “I came to show my support. We didn’t get a welcome home (from Vietnam) by any means and to send him off is very important and I just want to pay my respects."
Music Funeral Home provided the services and were asked to spread the word that Fatzinger needed people to attend.
“This community is wonderful,” Casey Music of Music Funeral Home said. “There is no better place to live than South Georgia.”
As Fatzinger was laid to rest with full military honors, many who arrived with no knowledge of him left with a lifelong memory.
“Our flag does not fly because of the wind blowing it," Ward said. "It blows with the breath of every solider protecting it."
Desiree Carver is a reporter at the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be reached at (229) 244-3400 ext. 1215.