Thousands reportedly paid their respects Monday at the formal military burial of a United States Air Force veteran believed to have no family.
Joseph Walker was laid to rest with full military honors at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen. He was 72 years old at the time of his passing on November 19, according to All Faiths Funeral & Cremation Services. Walker served in the Air Force from September 1964 to September 1968, during the Vietnam War.
Cemetery staffers said at least 2,000 Texans who did not know Walker answered the call to ensure the unaccompanied veteran was not buried alone. The Killeen Daily Herald reported Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery officials said so many people showed up they had to push back ceremony’s 10 a.m. start time by 20 minutes to accommodate everyone in the viewing area.
Veterans from across Texas, including Austin, San Antonio, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area attended. So did police officers. Multiple motorcycle clubs, including the Wind Therapy Freedom Riders, met up and rode to the burial site, according to KCEN.
— TXGeneralLandOffice (@txglo) January 28, 2019
The cemetery posted video from the service, which included a flyover. They thanked everyone who came to honor Walker, stating, “We are overwhelmed at all this love and support.”
This heartwarming story actually began last week when cemetery officials, unable to locate Walker’s next-of-kin, feared no one would attend the service and invited the public. “We do not leave veterans behind,” they posted Thursday on Facebook. The next day, the Texas Veterans Land Board (VLB), housed within the state’s General Land Office (GLO), issued a press release about the unaccompanied veteran burial. They, too, encouraged Texans to attend the service.
The GLO noted if no family members presented themselves at the ceremony, an onsite VLB representative would accept flag on Walker’s behalf. Cemetery staff said they worked with the Fort Hood Casualty Office to give Walker a proper military burial.
Subsequently, numerous Central Texas media outlets promoted the cemetery’s call to action. Others, including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), helped spread the word over social media.
Air Force Veteran Joseph Walker will be laid to rest Monday, and no one is expected to attend.
The cemetery said they do not know where his family is and they do not want him to be laid to rest alone, so they are asking the public to attend. https://t.co/ydf39wwrBn
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 26, 2019
GLO spokeswoman Karina Erickson said proper burial for unaccompanied veterans began in 2015.
Following the service, a few unexpected developments unfolded. First, the GLO said Walker had a daughter but she did not arrive in time to attend the ceremony, according to KVUE. Instead, she met with cemetery officials and they gave her the U.S. flag from her father’s casket.
Then, late Monday evening, a woman named Dana Williams came forward, telling KVUE she was Walker’s great-niece. She said he had two brothers and a nephew, but said nothing about a daughter in the news segment. According to Williams, Walker died from cancer and the family held a funeral for him in December. She thought he was buried weeks ago. Williams voiced gratitude for the statewide support, but claimed the family did not know about Monday’s burial and felt slighted they were not invited.
Conversely, the All Faiths funeral home director told KVUE they tried several times to contact Walker’s brother, to no avail. They realized Walker qualified for a veteran’s burial plot and wanted to do the right thing by bringing closure to his life.