Thanks to the power of social media and national news coverage, a family member of Air Force veteran Joseph Walker was able to make it to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery on Monday after Walker’s funeral service.
The family member, believed to be a step-daughter, although the relation is not confirmed, was presented with the folded U.S. flag which covered Walker’s coffin, according to Texas General Land Office spokeswoman Karina Erickson.
While the Herald was unable to make contact with any of the surviving family members, Walker’s great-niece, Dana Williams, spoke with Austin’s ABC affiliate KVUE on Monday and said they already held a funeral for him back in December and thought he was buried weeks ago.
“I’m very emotional about it,” Williams told KVUE, adding that Monday’s funeral service, as nice as it was, left them blindsided. “It’s just very heartbreaking. I’m very upset, I’m very angry that our uncle was laid to rest again and none of his immediate family was there.”
According to the KVUE article, the funeral director at All Faiths Funeral stated they tried multiple times to contact Walker’s brother about the actual burial, as he was listed as the next of kin, but never heard back from him. Since Walker qualified for a veterans burial plot, the funeral home contacted the Texas General Land Office about the Unaccompanied Veterans Program run through the Texas Veterans Land Board.
“When a veteran’s remains are not claimed — they’re either at a funeral home or held by the county or a nursing facility, and they’re not claimed by any next of kin or they’re not able to get in contact with the next of kin — they contact us for the unaccompanied veterans program,” Erickson said. “These veterans are given their burial benefits, which are the same at the Texas State Veterans Cemeteries as they are at the national cemeteries.”
Erickson said that when the funeral home contacted the office for burial, it was stated they had been unable to contact the next of kin.
“We took Mr. Walker’s remains and we conducted an unaccompanied burial,” she said. “The word was put out a couple of days in advance that the burial was occurring, and I believe the family was able to find out through the news (about the funeral). They were able to meet with our cemetery director after the ceremony concluded and were presented with Mr. Walker’s flag.”
Erickson said the General Land Office and cemetery staff are just happy they were able to provide a burial giving Walker the proper dignity and respect he deserved.
“We were very happy to have been able to present the family with the flag,” she said. “For us, we were able to reunite the family with their loved one, show them where their burial plot is. That’s one of the greatest rewards of doing this.”