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Parents Grieve For Son Who Died Alone On Street Bench

December 21, 1988

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A reporter chose at random to tell what he could about the death of a homeless man, broken and alone, on a San Francisco street. A few miles away, a couple couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

Reed Galin of KPIX television on Friday was talking about their son, 39- year-old Gregory Rivenbark, an honorably discharged Vietnam veteran Marine who never got over the shock of his experience.

His parents, Mal and Mary Ann Rivenbark of South San Francisco, learned that Gregory was the 91st homeless person to die in San Francisco. He was found dead Oct. 13.

″I thought someone had made a mistake,″ his mother said. ″A terrible mistake.″

The Rivenbarks waited through the weekend to learn whether the report was true that, as Mrs. Rivenbark said, ″He died alone ... when I saw that bench on televison, I thought, ’He just sat down there and he died.‴

She said they are hoping for a memorial service with a Marine color guard at Golden Gate National Cemetery.

They last saw their son a week before he died. In the interim they were occupied with Mal Rivenbark’s quadruple-bypass surgery. Birthdays and an anniversary passed, and Gregory didn’t telephone. They wondered why.

Mrs. Rivenbark said their son suffered mental problems and alcoholism after his discharge. She said he had been traumatized by the death of another Marine in the war.

After Gregory died, his body went unclaimed, and was finally sent to a mortuary school that contracts for the indigent dead. The coroner’s office tried unsuccessfully to find next of kin.

Rivenbark was identified through fingerprints. The coroners tried to find next of kin by checking a police rap sheet, hospital records, and Veteran’s Administration files.

″There is only so much we can do,″ administrative coroner Joseph Surdyka. ″And then we have to move on to the next death.″

His mother recalled her last conversation with her son, a phone call from a Redwood City hospital where he was in recovery.

″He called, it was 1 a.m., I was sleepy,″ she said. ″I said, ‘Gregory, I wish you all the luck.’ He said, ‘Thanks, mom.’ Those were the last words he ever said to me.″

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