Only a few days ago, it seemed that veteran Joseph Walker would be laid to rest in Killeen with no one in attendance.
Instead, thousands arrived at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen to pay their respects to the Air Force veteran, producing a “miles-long” line of cars and delaying the ceremony by 20 minutes on Monday morning.
Walker served in the Air Force from September 1964 to September 1968 during the Vietnam War. He died in November, according to his obituary.
The Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery first put out the call for the public to attend Walker’s full military burial on Jan. 24, the same request it posts for all unaccompanied burials: “If you have the opportunity, please come out and attend. We do NOT leave veterans behind.”
Unlike others before, this one reached far beyond Killeen. Sen. Ted Cruz and CNN’s Jake Tapper were among those who publicized the cemetery’s request. It paid off. Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody estimated 5,000 people came.
“The entire cemetery grounds were full of cars,” said Karina Erickson, communications director for the Texas General Land Office. “I can safely say I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Walker’s service was the 97th one put on by the Unaccompanied Veteran program since 2015, when it was implemented by Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Each unaccompanied burial is publicized just as Walker’s was, Erickson said, and each one has seen at least a few people in attendance.
Publicizing Walker’s burial didn’t just draw thousands from the public — family members heard about it on the news, Erickson said, and were presented with the flag draped on Walker’s coffin.
Speakers and those attending recognized they didn’t know a lot about Walker outside of his service. But to Erickson, that’s what made the turnout all the more overwhelming.
“It’s one of those things that does the heart good,” Erickson said.
Killeen, Texas: A line of cars stretching for miles to attend the funeral of an Air Force Veteran with no family.. after fears he would be buried with no one attending.pic.twitter.com/IC5z7IlDjh— Janet Shamlian (@JanetShamlian)January 28, 2019