Missing veteran may be found

Family believes body likely his

Staff WriterSeptember 7, 2009 

— The family of a Durham man missing for almost a month said Sunday they believe a body found by police may be their 76-year-old loved one, a war veteran who had dementia.

Reginald Charles said his family thinks the body found by Durham police Saturday night likely is that of his uncle, John Henry Cheatham, a Vietnam and Korean War veteran who lived about two blocks away from the wooded area where the discovery was made.

Police said there was no evidence of foul play but would not confirm the identity of the body until a review Tuesday by state medical examiners in Chapel Hill. But Charles said officers told his aunt Connie, Cheatham's wife, that clothing on the body matched the description of what Cheatham was last seen wearing -- a T-shirt and hat with the word "ARMY" on it.

"We went to church, and we lifted him up in prayer today," Charles said. "Police haven't said that it's him, but given the physical description, we're considering that it's him."

The body was found around 6:30 p.m. Saturday in a wooded area behind 16 Madrid Lane, about two blocks from Cheatham's Casa Street home.

Charles said he thought his uncle might have wandered off and tried to make his way back home. Cheatham battled dementia they believed was Alzheimer's disease for the past 10 years, Charles said.

"He was the only father figure I knew," said Charles, 55, a city bus driver who moved in with the family years ago to help take care of Cheatham.

"He kept me in line a lot, and I was trying to take care of him and assist him as he had done for me throughout my entire life. That disease is devastating."

Cheatham, a retired IBM employee, and his wife did not have children. But they often helped young people in the community, Charles said.

Charles remembered one time when the Cheathams took a troubled teenage girl into their home for a few days and helped her sober up and reconnect with her family.

"He was a kind and generous person who reached out to any person," Charles said. "He guided me, disciplined me and made sure I made good decisions."

Cheatham went missing Aug. 8. The family spent the last month passing out fliers and searching the area with the help of neighbors and police.

"The support has been overwhelming, and we're grateful," Charles said. "It's now time to let him be at peace."

sadia.latifi@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2002

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