Homeless veteran receives honor years after death

RAYMONDVILLE — For years, no one in town knew Kent Karl Kauten’s real name.

They just knew him as Gregory, a bearded homeless man who pushed a shopping cart along the streets.

Then, three years ago, upon his death, some of the mystery behind his life began unraveling.

When it turned out Kauten was a Navy veteran, this heavily Mexican-American community gave him a full military burial.

Today, veterans will unveil a granite stone at his grave in a ceremony at 9:30 a.m. at Raymondville Memorial Park.

“It’s exhilarating but there’s sadness because of his demise,” said George Solis, Precinct 2’s justice of the peace who serves as commander of the local American Legion post.

Solis said members of a local farming family, who asked to remain anonymous, donated the 2-foot by 1-foot flat stone bearing the Navy’s emblem to mark Kauten’s grave.

“This goes to the core of who we are and what we do,” Solis said. “He was an individual unknown to anyone, a face in the crowd. But he’s one of us who served our country to protect the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

On April 18, 2013, Solis pronounced the homeless man dead in the back of an abandoned convenience store on East Hidalgo Avenue.

An autopsy found he died of heart failure.

But a check with the Office of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C., found the 57-year-old Kauten was a Vietnam veteran who was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1975.

“He accepted the challenge to put his life on the line for our country,” Solis said.

Kauten probably lived in the area for about five years after leaving his family in his hometown of Kenosha, Wis., more than 20 years earlier, Solis said.

But for many here, Kauten’s a hero who nearly died forgotten.

Three years after his death, residents now remember him as a Vietnam veteran.

“It speaks loudly about how our community feels about veterans,” Solis said. “It behooves us to teach a lesson to our children to honor those who served before us.”