Funeral home worried Air Force vet wouldn’t get proper burial, so thousands of strangers made sure he did

AUSTIN, Texas - The thousands in attendance as Joseph Walker was laid to rest Monday couldn't tell you much about him - except that he served his country.

Walker, 72, was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era and was discharged from service honorably.

He "was called by Our Heavenly Father on Monday, November 19th, 2018," his obituary reads. The obituary does not mention Walker's rank.

Gilbert Cavazos, funeral director at All Faiths Funeral Service in Austin, said All Faiths provided a wake and funeral for Walker. But his family were concerned about meeting the cost of the services.

The funeral home said it would provide shelter for Walker until something could be worked out but, despite repeated efforts, it has since been unable to reach the family.

"We have to just have closure now," said Cavazos. "This gentleman deserves this."

A call to action

Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery had a simple request.

"We have the distinct honor to provide a full military burial for unaccompanied United States Air Force Veteran Joseph Walker," their Facebook post from January 24 read. "If you have the opportunity, please come out and attend. We do NOT leave Veterans behind."

Word spread quickly as local media and others, including politicians, began to echo the call to action.

"ATTN TEXANS," wrote CNN's own Jake Tapper. "No one is expected to attend the funeral for Joseph Walker, who served in the US Air Force 1964-1968."

Military honors

Car after car after car lined the roads in and around the cemetery.

So many people showed up that vehicles were backed up onto a nearby highway. The ceremony started late to allow everyone to attend. Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody, who dispatched units to assist with traffic for the burial, estimated there were more than 5,000 people there.

When the ceremony began, shortly after 10:00 a.m., dozens of US flags waved in the wind. Then three planes, in an apparent flyover, buzzed across the sky.

"Today, we're not strangers. Today, we are family. This is our brother, Joseph Walker. I don't have a whole lot of information, but it doesn't matter," said a speaker at the funeral. "Today, we give him honors,"

Watch the entire ceremony here:

Then, the military honors began. Three rifle shots followed by a solemn horn playing "Taps."

And finally, two servicemembers took the flag draped atop Walker's coffin and folded it.

"All people should have someone there for them at their funeral," said Irmgard Price, who drove in from nearby Belton. It was an honor to be in attendance for Walker's burial, said Price.

Williamson County sheriff's office Sgt. Marco A. Gomez said his father and grandfather are both veterans -- of Vietnam and World War II respectively.

"I couldn't imagine them not having anyone around during their funerals," he told CNN.

Gomez traveled to attend the funeral to make sure Walker knew there was someone thankful for his service. "Anyone who signs that blank check for us deserves it," he said.

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