The state’s Veterans Land Board put out a call on Monday for community members to attend a funeral service for a Vietnam Veteran with no known next of kin.
However, by the size of the crowd at the Central Texas Veteran Cemetery, you would never guess it was a funeral for an unaccompanied veteran.
In a matter of hours, strangers became family.
One attendee, Ron Kearney said, “These are his family, I am his family. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to have all the freedoms we have. Where would we be?”
All in attendance felt a sense of personal responsibility to come out and honor Specialist Billy Mark Guinn.
As a veteran herself, Lynda Nash, Harker Heights Councilwoman said, “To find out that he didn’t have any family that anybody could locate, it is important that we show our support for him even though we didn’t know him. We come together in this community in Bell County District 54 because we share [a] commonality. We share Fort Hood, Harker Heights, Killeen we share that, and so we come out for our family like we would do for any relative that’s blood related.”
Blood makes you biologically related, but a shared experience makes you family.
“He and I might have crawled through the same mud in Vietnam, I don’t know,” said Larry Mladek, Commander of American Legion Post 228 in Georgetown. “He’s a brother in arms. And a brother in arms deserves to have someone by his graveside when he is being buried.”
More than 100 community members answered the call to attend Guinn’s funeral.
“To see so many diverse groups of people out here, it was just amazing,” said Nash.
With no next of kin present at the burial, the Veterans Land Board accepted the flag on his behalf.
“This cemetery, this is their last formation as we call it,” said Doug Gault, chief of operations and protocol for the Texas Veterans Land Bureau. “So, we will ensure that when he goes to his grave site, his last formation, he will go out with dignity and respect.”
Throughout the state’s four veterans cemeteries, this year 163 unaccompanied veterans have been buried so far. In Killeen 95 unaccompanied veterans have been buried at the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery to date.
Specialist Guinn was 64 years old and received the National Defense Service Metal and the Marksmanship Badge.
Written by Leigha McNeil