When the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery announced that 72-year-old Joseph Walker was to be buried as an "unaccompanied veteran," with nobody present but cemetery workers, the response was overwhelming. Roads around the cemetery were jammed and the service had to start late to accommodate the estimated 2,000 to 5,000 people who showed up to honor the Air Force veteran Monday, CNN reports. The cemetery said it had been unable to contact any relatives of the Vietnam-era vet, who served from 1964 to 1968 and received an honorable discharge. "If you have the opportunity, please come out and attend," the Killeen cemetery said in a Facebook post. "We do NOT leave Veterans behind."
Sen. Ted Cruz and CNN's Jake Tapper were among those spreading word of the funeral. It was officiated by Marc George of the Christian Motorcyclists Association, NPR reports. "Today, we're not strangers; today, we are family," he said. "This is our brother, Joseph Walker." Cemetery staff say the turnout included airmen and veterans from all over Texas. "It’s completely overwhelming," Texas General Land Office communications director Karina Erickson tells the Killeen Daily Herald. "It really sends the message that this is Texas, and we don’t leave our veterans behind." She says the agency, headed by George P. Bush, changed policies in 2015 to ensure that all veterans are buried with recognition of their service. (In New Mexico, a funeral home paid for a full military funeral for a veteran whose body was unclaimed in a hospital morgue.)