As dozens gathered Tuesday at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery to show their respects at a funeral for an unaccompanied veteran, the 100th such service, a state agency announced the milestone to give those who served their country a proper sendoff.
United States Army veteran Major Lee Shotwell died in November at the age of 73, but no immediate family members were found to claim his body. Little was known about Shotwell, who served in the Army from Dec. 6, 1963, to Dec. 6, 1966.
“We don’t know what he did or where he went, but none the less today he is our brother,” Marc George with the Christian Motorcyclist Association told FOX7.
Shotwell became the 100th unaccompanied veteran to be laid to rest in Texas with full military honors since the Texas General Land Office created the Unaccompanied Veterans Program in 2015. The program provides a burial with full military honors if a relative of a veteran does not come forward after their death.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who started the program, told FOX7 he has been "thrilled" with the progress over the past couple years.
"We started this in 2015, we found savings in our budget to make it work," Bush said. "Other states have approached us including the Federal VA to replicate this in other parts of the country, we’ve actually reunited a handful of families through this program, but to me, it’s a reminder that there are many of our battle buddies that are being left behind. To me, this is a platform to speak to a larger set of issues that we see in the veterans community."
Bush now wants to expand the program to include other state cemeteries across Texas. He's pushing for state lawmakers to provide the program with some additional funding.
Those who attended the service, in less than ideal weather conditions, said they will never shy away from a call to service.
"I tell everybody no matter what kind of day you’re having and even the weather, you leave here after something like this, whatever problems you’re dealing with through life, your job, your family and your children you leave here in a little bit in appreciation of life and the day and what the United States services have done for our country over the years,” veteran Lawrence McCullar told FOX7.