Central Texans honor airman on flight to the 'Wild, Blue Yonder'

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KILLEEN. Texas (KWTX) The country, even the world, had its eyes on Central Texas Monday as people around here dropped what they were busy with and took the time to attend a funeral for someone they didn’t know.

Folded American flag / (MGN)

Thousands turned out, made aware of the fallen U.S. Air Force veteran’s unusual need through social and mainstream media, cars lined the entrance to the Central Texas Veteran’s Cemetery and crowds gathered at Joseph Walker’s graveside for the short, about 20-minute remembrance, followed by full military honors.

His casket flag presented to a representative from a Central Texas veteran’s organization.

Estimates ranged widely but those in the know say there may have been as many as 6,000 cars in the line.

The video was impressive, the story itself tugged at heartstrings and stirred feelings of patriotism, honor and respect among active military, retired military and citizens who’d never served and to their children, who might not have realized it, but they were learning an extremely valuable lesson: service to the country is service of the highest calling and always should be appreciated and recognized.

An unusual display of respect for veterans in this neck of the woods is not unusual at all.

“Everybody steps up.” Laurence McCullar, U.S. Army CSM, ret., said.

“People in Central Texas bend over backwards to support veterans every day,” he said.

Support for veterans in this area was “exactly the reason I chose to retire here,” McCullar said.

McCullar volunteers at the cemetery, as well as at the Veteran’s Administration, local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters and the Disabled American Veterans.

“I’ve attended several of these unaccompanied burials and usually it was me and three or four others there, but when we posted the first unaccompanied funeral on social media is when we started seeing others show up.”

Monday’s service was “something to behold,” McCullar said, but the while organized honors efforts began two years ago “it’s come together in the last couple of years.

“Its become part of the glue that holds Central Texas veterans and their families together.”

William “Joe” Gainey, retired from the highest rank an enlisted soldier can attain, said the display Monday showed the underpinning of what exists in Central Texas when it comes to supporting those who served.

“If a veteran around here needs help, no matter what kind, all they have to do is run a flag up the pole and me and other veterans will respond. Its automatic,” he said.

Not to be lost solely on veterans, those still on active duty see how Central Texans respond, too.

Col. Myles Caggins, public information officer for Ft. Hood and III Corps, said it comes down to “the power of social media.

“When local people find out there is a need, they come running,” Caggins said.

One thing all three veterans agreed on: “That’s who we are around here and that’s what we do.”

So, from Central Texas to Joseph Walker: “Here’s a toast to the hosts of those who love the vastness of the sky. Off we go, into the Wild Blue Yonder,” words from the Air Force song as he makes his trip to glory, and Central Texans all were proud to send you home.

Author’s Note: Not routinely is national attention focused on Central Texas but the attention focused here Monday at the funeral for U.S. Air Force veteran Joseph Walker splashed loud across the country. And it should have because it speaks volumes about how we who live here respect those who serve. But to me it wasn’t surprising at all that once told of the need, those who live here lined up to fill it, because that’s who we are, every day.