Over 2,000 people came out to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery to show their last respect to Air Force veteran Joseph Walker last week after many of them learned Walker would have no family members attending the burial in Killeen.
However, it turned out later that Walker, who lived south of Austin in Kyle, did have family, and they claim they were not invited to the Jan. 28 burial service.
Friends of the family called Dana Williams’ attention to the service with military rites, making her wonder why her great-uncle was buried without his closest relatives. The family was especially confused because they already had a funeral service for their uncle in early December.
“His service was on Dec. 8,” said Williams, an Austin resident. “People were there — family and friends.”
Walker died Nov 19, 2018. The family’s funeral service took place in the chapel of All Faith Funeral Services, an Austin funeral home.
Williams said she and other family members believed that Walker’s body was simply scheduled to be moved to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery for burial, but there was no need for a service because the service already happened.
“We knew he was a veteran, but at the time, there was nothing in place for anyone to come and do a memorial,” Williams said. “That all already happened at the day of the funeral.”
While Williams was happy to see how many people showed their respects to her uncle, the backlash of the unaccompanied funeral and the fact that Walker’s immediate relatives were not able to attend left the family heartbroken.
“It was weird, it was hurtful, it’s just really messed up,” she said. “My mom was very emotional about it. It brought up a lot of emotions in her from mad to angry to confused.”
While an employee of the funeral home verified Walker’s religious service at their chapel in Austin, he also pointed out some difficulties regarding the payment of the services which resulted in the funeral being postponed.
“The person that said they would pay for the expenses didn’t come through,” according to the funeral home.
Walker’s family as well as the funeral home said a friend of Walker, who the family believes to be policy holder of his life insurance, was in charge of the funeral but never made any attempts to pay.
“After the funeral service was held here in our chapel early December … we decided to cancel the (burial) service to give the family some time to come up with some funds … but we never heard back from them,” the funeral home said. “During that time Mr. Walker was properly cared for in our facility.”
According to the funeral home, they reached out multiple times to Walker’s brother but didn’t receive a response.
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, which runs the veterans cemetery in Killeen and others in the state.
“We never got any proper response,” according to the funeral home. “He deserved to be properly cared for and that is just how we operate … We are here to take care of our community.”
Veterans qualify for benefits toward their funeral services. However, the funds are paid directly to the families of the decedent, who have to apply for the benefits through the Veterans Affairs office.
“It’s not about the money,” the employee of the funeral home said. “It’s about Mr. Walker, it’s about the family ... The brother is also having a hard time and he was under the assumption that this friend of Mr. Walker … was going to help him.”
Austin resident Lena Minter, Williams’ sister and another great-niece of Walker, didn’t have an answer as to why Walker’s brother didn’t answer the calls of the funeral home, but she felt like Walker’s friend caused a big misunderstanding.
“We didn’t even know that his body was just there for a month,” she said. “I am not angry at the funeral home; they did the best for my uncle and I appreciate it. I just think a lot of things got mixed up.”
Minter was upset that she missed her uncle’s second funeral and about the way her family was portrayed on social media.
“I was more disappointed and hurt than angry,” she said. “Reading that he had no family — it’s heartbreaking, it’s embarrassing, it’s disrespectful ... I don’t want people thinking that he didn’t have family, that he didn’t have people that loved him because we just didn’t know about the funeral ... I would have definitely been in Killeen.”
While the commotion stirred up a lot of emotions again, the family now tries to grieve in peace and to cherish the memorial service even though they weren’t able to attend.
“He had a beautiful service and he got what he deserved,” she said.