You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Many mourn for Marine who few knew

Everyone dies alone. Joseph Jackson Gwatney died more alone than anyone should. Especially a Marine.

He might have been an imperfect man, granted, with a few smoldering wrecks littered behind him on the winding highway of his life. Two estranged adult children. Few friends.

It didn’t matter Thursday. At the Cook-Walden Davis Funeral Home in Georgetown, he might have had more friends than he ever had in life.

Gwatney, who lived in Harker Heights, died June 8 at Seton Medical Center Williamson after suffering multiple strokes and being cared for at an adult rehab facility in Georgetown. He was 71. He’d wished to be cremated, but without available next of kin that proved to be a problem. His body lay unclaimed.

Tara Strain, the hospital’s patient representative, never knew Gwatney because he came to the hospital unresponsive. Nonetheless, she spent four days on the phone trying to take care of him. The children didn’t care to be involved. His cremation wish hadn’t been formally stated. Justice of the Peace Bill Gravell Jr., whose office is involved in many death investigations, stepped in. So did Kevin Hull, the vice president and location manager at the funeral home. The Seton Williamson Foundation made a donation to cover some costs. They started spreading the word: We are having a service for this man we did not know.

And Thursday afternoon, Gwatney, the almost-unknown soldier, received full military honors at his memorial service. An urn containing his ashes was front and center, his final wish fulfilled. The room was packed and no more than two people — if that — who knew him were on hand. There were veterans, including Vietnam vets in their biker leathers, elected officials, members of law enforcement, people who wanted to honor his service and respect and celebrate his life. A pianist played “American the Beautiful” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” A Marine blew “Taps.” Two others folded Gwatney’s American flag with great solemnity and silence at the service’s end, then presented it to his friend, Gary Hatcher, also of Harker Heights.

Hatcher said that Gwatney was born in Arkansas and was a truck driver for 40 years. For a while they drove together, until Gwatney’s health began to slide. Hatcher said Gwatney’s tenure in the Marines was brief, that he was outgoing and enjoyed fishing and karaoke. He didn’t want to have much to do with the government, to the extent that he didn’t start drawing Social Security until he was 67.

Hatcher expected just a handful of people to turn out for the memorial, so the full house was a surprise. Even Hull, a professional in the business of death and grieving, choked up a bit when he blessed and recessed the crowd.

You will die. Alone. You might not have the pleasure of drifting into the big sleep while your loved ones give you comforting pats and eyes full of bittersweet tears and tell you it’s all right, at last, to let go. You will still be alone. You may die like this man did, God rest his guts. Alone and forgotten.

But on Thursday, Joseph Jackson Gwatney was anything but.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Texas official: Video justified Planned Parenthood ouster
Texas official: Video justified Planned Parenthood ouster

Two state health officials, both involved in the decision to remove Planned Parenthood from Texas Medicaid, took the stand Wednesday, focusing attention on a central point of this week’s federal court hearing — whether the organization’s ouster was justified. Stuart Bowen Jr., inspector general for the Texas Health and Human Services...
Rep. Dawnna Dukes indicted on 15 charges, booked at county courthouse
Rep. Dawnna Dukes indicted on 15 charges, booked at county courthouse

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes turned herself in at the Travis County courthouse on Wednesday afternoon after a grand jury on Tuesday indicted her on 13 felony corruption charges and two misdemeanors. Speaking outside the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center before going in to stand for a mug shot and give her fingerprints, Dukes, D-Austin, said she...
World’s primates in crisis, on track for extinction, new study warns
World’s primates in crisis, on track for extinction, new study warns

Half of the world’s primates, including gorillas, apes, monkeys, lemurs, and others are in crisis and on track for extinction, mainly due to a growing human population and habitat loss. Some “60 percent of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75 percent have declining populations,” according to a new study published...
Rainy week to give way to sunshine, then blustery weekend
Rainy week to give way to sunshine, then blustery weekend

Well, that was wet. Almost 4 inches of rain fell on Austin’s Camp Mabry from the first raindrops that fell on Friday the 13th to the final downpour Wednesday morning. The six-day stretch brought nearly double the normal January total monthly rainfall of 2.2 inches, yet managed to be merely soggy — albeit with a few tornado scares &mdash...
Police: Man who drove Ferrari off Westlake bridge charged with DWI
Police: Man who drove Ferrari off Westlake bridge charged with DWI

A man accused of drunken driving drove a $385,000 Ferrari off a bridge in Westlake, went airborne for 50 feet and crashed into the woods while speeding Friday night, officials said. James Allen, 28, is facing a charge of driving while intoxicated, authorities said. According to police, a witness at a boat ramp near Redbud Trail saw the vehicle drive...
More Stories