Hundreds attend funeral for unaccompanied Air Force veteran
KILLEEN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - A flag draped casket carried by an Air Force Honor Guard held the body of 72-year-old Joseph Walker on Monday.
The burial ceremony at the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery in Killeen attracted hundreds of people, everyone compelled to be there.
People like Bobby and Patricia Gressett who drove in from east Texas
“It’s up lifting, just seeing everybody here that would turn out to see a veteran,” said Bobby Gressett.
Walker was from Dale, Texas. He served four years in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. He died in November and no one claimed his body. However, the absence of immediate family didn't mean those attending considered themselves to be strangers.
Air Force vet Michael Bradshaw put it this way.
“To know that one of my own is being buried without any family, when he has a gigantic family all over the world, no we can’t have that,” said Bradshaw.
When the Texas Veterans Land Board announced an unaccompanied burial would be held for Walker, news of it went viral on social media.
A steady flow of people, mostly veterans and active duty service members, arrived for the ceremony. At times traffic was blocked on Highway 195.
Cal Tedone and his wife drove down from Weatherford.
“It was my wife’s idea, my wife Mary Ann, she said ya know it would be really nice, we are both retired, to go down and pay our respects,” said Tedone.
Raphael Otero, an Army veteran, brought his 3-year-old son.
“If he decides to grow up and he decides to join and it’s something he will have instilled inside him to know that you don’t have to be blood to be family,” said Otero.
A pilot group from Austin provided a flyover and aerial salute.
Walker is the 97th Texas veteran to have this type of ceremony. The program began back in 2015 and the Veterans Land Board uses military cemeteries all across the state.
"Our message today is that no veteran is ever left behind,” said board spokesperson Karina Erickson.
The promise, according to Erickson, is also for the living; with nursing homes and special loan programs available
“A lot of these guys are homeless veterans where they have no next of kin, so it’s really, it's fitting that we honor them today,” said Erickson.
The ceremony for Walker ended with a traditional rifle volley. A long line also formed with several people giving the casket a soft touch as they said a silent prayer. Others stood and snapped a formal salute. A final farewell to a man they did not know, but someone with a common bond and a very large family.
Toward the end of the ceremony Erickson said a woman arrived and identified herself as Walker’s daughter.
“We were able to reunite the family today. His daughter saw the news coverage and drove into town for the burial. However, she was not able to make it until the very end,” said Erickson in a statement sent to FOX 7.
The daughter was presented with the flag that was on her father’s casket.