An American soldier’s soul was called home to God on January 24, 2020 and this particular soldier left behind an amazing legacy. Doyle “Popeye” Tolbert was the founder of the non-profit organization, Veterans without Family. This organization’s sole purpose is to honor our homeless Veterans and/or the Veterans without family. The story behind this incredible idea is truly inspiring. Doyle Tolbert was a coroner investigator for many years. His job was to identify the John/Jane Does that came in and notify the next of kin if there were any. According to Mrs. Tolbert based on her post to Facebook via the Veteran’s without Family account, “it was in 1986 that Doyle discovered that the homeless and unclaimed Veteran’s cases were being sent to the Riverside National Cemetery (RNC) with no respect or honors and without any family to say a prayer or goodbye.”
I must reiterate to emphasize the FACT that before Doyle Tolbert took notice and did something about it, NO RESPECT WAS BEING PAID TO OUR FALLEN SOLDIERS WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES FOR US. How does this happen one might ask themselves? The answers are numerous and yet as civilians we will never understand them. We all must come to realize that even though our soldiers may have come home, the war came home with them too. These brave men and women have been changed in ways unseen to us. Some came home, some lived on the streets, and others were unable to cope with a society that had never given them a warm welcome home.
This discovery, though disappointing as it was, inspired within Doyle a vision to give our Veterans the respect and proper burials they deserved. After all, they gave their lives for US ALL to be here now, the least we can do is send them off with proper honors. The dream took years in the making and the story of success behind this mission of his shows that dreams can come true through the help and support of friends and family. His wife, Gilda Tolbert, worked side by side with him every step of the way. March 5, 2008 marked the success of the organization’s first mission. Another key figure worth mentioning is his former co-worker and friend, Lt. Fred Corral.
The path in which these two met, was one paved by the Fates themselves. At the age of 30, Fred Corral was an officer for the LAPD and was accidentally shot on duty by a fellow officer who mistook Corral as a perpetrator. Corral was shot through the knee and was forced to retire at the age of 30. His dreams of becoming a detective in Homicide were shattered. Disappointed as he was, Corral did not let this stop him from pursuing his career. He came across a job posting for the Coroner Investigations Department for the LAPD. He took the job and a few years in crossed paths with Doyle Tolbert. Having a military background in common, the two men quickly developed a friendship made up of respect and admiration.
Corral would go on to help Tolbert identify the veterans without family and was there when the non-profit organization began to take flight. The importance of these two men meeting ignited a purpose for Fred Corral. Inspired by Tolbert’s vision, Corral created his own and recognized a need to collect the bodies and/or remains of a fallen soldier from the battlefield. Fred Corral experienced the gruesome reality of war first hand, when his friend and fellow soldier was killed in front of him. Corral carried his friend’s body back to base selflessly risking his own safety. That moment became a core memory and stayed with Corral.
In combination with the inspiration he got from seeing Doyle Tolbert doing something for our Veterans and the core memory that stayed with him, Corral helped to start what is now known as the Personnel Retrieval and Processing Company. Established in 2005, this unit is made up of a group of Marines specially trained to recover, process, and evacuate the remains of fallen service members. They make sure that these fallen heroes are brought home and given the honor and respect they are due. Fred Corral taught a special class that trained these specific soldiers to come face to face with the brutality of war as he had to do. He took his classes on field trips to the Coroner’s office and showed them the ugliness that war can have on the human body. As the program director at the time Lt. Fred Corral is quoted saying, “We’re preparing them to deal with death mentally and physically.”
It is truly amazing to see that from Tolbert’s inspiring vision to bury ALL veterans with the honor and respect they deserve sprouted Corral’s own vision to keep his military oath by leaving NO man/woman behind and bringing them home by any means necessary. This happenchance really goes to show that life may not go the way you wanted or planned, but if you have faith, life will get you where you need to be. Another life Doyle Tolbert had touched was that of a fellow Green Beret, Thomas Alan Mitchell. Sadly, Mitchell passed away July 1, 2019 just about 6 months before his good friend Doyle Tolbert. Mitchell knew that what Tolbert created was important and became a dedicated member. When he passed, his wife, Margaret Mitchell took up the tradition knowing how important it was to her husband.
When I heard about Doyle “Popeye” Tolbert’s passing away, it affected me in a way that was unexpected. I never had the honor of meeting this incredible human being, yet through the stories I’ve heard since joining the SoCal Patriot Guard Riders, I was immediately inspired to write a blog post in honor of the life he lived, the mark he made on this earth, and the many lives he inspired. Though we never met, I share a sense of kinship with him as we share the same passion and love for the Veterans who have served our country. As some of you may know, I am in beginning stages of starting my own Non-Profit organization in honor of my father called Hugo Lemus’ Home for Veterans.
My vision is to create a “Tiny Homes” community for homeless Veterans suffering from PTSD and/or with Disabilities. Our Veterans deserve four walls and a roof over their heads. They deserve a chance at rehabilitation back into society. They deserve to live out their final days in comfort, not cold and alone on the streets. They deserve to access the benefits they are entitled to as retired Veteran. They deserve their independence and the same freedom they fought for all of us to have. My vision is to create a community of Veterans that feel safe and welcomed home. I will soon be launching a separate website dedicated to my Non-Profit Organization. In the meantime, if you would like more info on Doyle Tolbert’s Non-Profit, Veterans without Family please visit their page on Facebook.com/Veteranswithoutfamily . Also please visit the SoCal Patriot Guard Rider’s website (www.SoCalpgr.org) if you are interested in joining us on our missions in honoring our fallen heroes. I want to end this post with an excerpt from a poem written by Lawrence Vaincourt titled “A Soldier Died Today”.