When 72-year-old Joseph Walker’s funeral was held Monday in Killeen, Texas, there was a concern that no one would be available to attend it. But that changed by Jan. 28, when more than 2,000 people reportedly showed up to honor the U.S. Air Force veteran.
When the unaccompanied veteran died of natural causes in November, none of his next of kin had come forward, including a possible brother he had living in Texas.
Ultimately, however, Walker’s next of kin did arrive at the services on Monday following intense media coverage of the ceremony.
“We are grateful that Mr. Walker’s next-of-kin presented themselves after the funeral, and we were able to present Mr. Walker’s flag to them,” Karina Erickson of the Texas General Land Office told NPR without identifying which relatives arrived.
However, the initial fear led many to arrive at The Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, which put out a call for the public to attend the previously postponed services.
But when the day of Walker’s funeral rolled around, photos on social media showed that being family had no bearing on those who turned out to support the veteran, who enlisted when he turned 18 and served in the Vietnam War. Cars stretched for miles as the public waited to pay their respects.
“Today, we’re not strangers; today, we are family, ” said funeral officiant Marc George of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. “This is our brother, Joseph Walker.”
After serving in the Air Force from September 1964 to September 1968, Walker left the service with an honorable discharge. There is not much else known about Walker’s service, including his military rank.
New federal and state collaborations in handling veterans’ remains mean that despite not having any apparent surviving relatives “all eligible Veterans are now interred with honor and dignity, regardless of where they may have found themselves in life.”
Should Walker’s surviving family members not have shown up, the flag honoring the veteran and draped over his casket would have remained at the cemetery for 90 days. Afterward, it would have flown at ceremonies such as his.
Texas State Veterans Cemeteries representative Douglas Gault, who helped spread awareness of the funeral’s procession on social media, accepted the flag, which was folded into the symbolic tricorner shape, on the Walker family’s behalf.