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Casket, funds raised for Vietnam Veteran's funeral

By KIMBERLY C. MOORE | The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla. | Published: August 11, 2018

LAKELAND, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — William "Mr. Willie" Dread will get the military funeral he earned, thanks to Karren Cornelius and her daughter, Emily.

The pair raised $4,415 – and counting – to properly bury the man they befriended when he was living in a homeless camp dubbed "The Chinese Jungle" off Kathleen Road six years ago.

Emily wrote about Dread for a history fair project at Seth McKeel Academy. She and her mother returned to the spot routinely, taking food and clothing, along with hundreds of care packages Emily gathered, filled with personal care.

Nearly two years ago, Emily reached out to John Quirck with Clark's House to tell him Dread was living in the woods and needed a home. Dread moved into Crystal Court apartments on Crystal Grove Drive in Lakeland in 2016. That's where he sustained a head injury last week.

Karren and Emily Cornelius were by his side, along with his sister, Beverly Lund, whom he hadn't seen in years, when he was disconnected from life support at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center last Saturday.

"I love them both," Dread said in a Ledger interview in April. "She is just a great young lady."

Karren and Dread's sister went through some of his belongings in his apartment and found page after page of his writing, including an autobiographical book he began and notes to pray for people.

"Pray for Emily C.," he wrote May 7, 2017. "For (her) to attend the right college, when the time comes."

He also prayed that God would "Bless me with blessings to bless others!" and hand-wrote a letter of recommendation for Emily for school and work. "She has a love and charitable spirit about her toward anyone that she is around."

Dread wrote a little about his childhood near Waycross, Georgia, where he was born on Easter Sunday, 1947. He remembered hearing the word "colored" for the first time about himself.

"I was only six or seven years old and it didn't make that much sense at the time," Dread wrote. "As I began to get older, in my teens and twenties, the words that some people called me because of my race bothered me, but since I became a Christian, it doesn't bother me, or any other words that someone might call me. God made all things and everyone!"

Also among his papers was his separation papers from the military, showing he earned the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars, the Vietnam campaign medal, the combat infantryman badge, a sharpshooter and marksman awards and a Purple Heart.

In April, Emily raised enough money for Dread to travel to Washington on board an Honor Flight. She accompanied him.

This week, someone donated a casket for Dread's funeral, which is now scheduled for Aug. 14, at Coney Funeral Home, 1404 Martin L. King, Jr., Avenue in Lakeland. The service begins at 10 a.m. Among those expected to attend is William Dread Jr., also an Army veteran, who hasn't seen his father since the younger Dread was 2 years old.

Following the Lakeland service, Dread will be buried at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell with military honors.

Karen Cornelius said any leftover funds from their gofundme.com campaign are going to be donated to a veteran's non-profit in Dread's name.

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