Thursday, November 30, 2017 / by Scott Shine
by Heather Ashley, Fort Hood Sentinel
KILLEEN — Hundreds of volunteers laid wreaths Saturday at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen to honor the service and sacrifice of the veterans and Family members interred there.
The Wreaths for Vets event, sponsored by the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, is in its 11th year. Since the event began in 2006 with 400 wreaths, it has grown exponentially over the years and this year, nearly 8,000 wreaths were placed.
Maj. Gen. J.T. Thomson III, deputy commanding general, III Corps and Fort Hood, said the event was a “solemn remembrance to the men and women who lie in this hallowed ground” and explained how the annual event began in Central Texas.
In 2006, he said, Wreaths Across America sent six wreaths to be placed in honor of each of the military services and the prisoners of war/missing in action.
Jean Shine, who now is president of the committee that organizes and sponsors the wreath-laying event, decided that each grave should have its own wreath, so she went to work, Thomson said.
“Within 72 hours, she purchased the wreaths, organized the volunteers and laid almost 400 wreaths,” the general said. “It has grown exponentially since then and we are tremendously grateful to all of you that are a part of this noble effort.”
From 400 wreaths to the thousands placed this year, the tradition has been steadfast to honor veterans.
“Among the 8,000 who rest here, there are veterans from five wars, military spouses and, sadly, military children,” Cyd West, Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, said. “Having spent my life in a military community, I realize that all members of the Family serve, not all on active duty, but all sacrifice, endure long separations, support each other through deployments and move many, many times.”
Those interred at the cemetery include 986 World War II veterans, 1,602 Korean War veterans, 3,764 Vietnam veterans, 419 Persian Gulf, 157 Iraq war, 45 Afghanistan war veterans, a total of 6,191 veterans and 1,764 Family members who lie in rest there, Thomson said.
He noted the sacrifices made by the service members interred at the cemetery.
“During their course on Earth, those we honor today put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf,” Thomson said.
Those gathered Saturday at the cemetery did so in remembrance and at an appropriate place and time of year.
“Their sacrifice and service to the United States of American and the grief of their Families and friends are stark reminders that there is a heavy toll for freedom paid by courageous men and women who took up arms to fight on our behalf,” the general continued. “It is fitting and proper that we come to a beautiful place like this to remember these fine Americans because of them, the gates of freedom remain open for our great nation.”
Hilary Shine, an executive member with The Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, noted the massive turnout for this year’s event and thanked the volunteers.
“This is not possible without you,” she said.
Before releasing the volunteers to place the wreaths, Jean Shine offered instructions for wreath placement and had one request.
“When you walk up to the gravesite, please read the name of the Soldier or the Family member that is buried there, say a quick, solemn quiet prayer then lay your wreath and quietly step back and give them another salute or hand over your heart to say thank you,” she said.
As volunteers gathered their wreaths for placement, many reflected on why they were there.
This was the fourth year Army veteran Sherretta Evans participated in the wreath-laying ceremony with her military sorority, Kappa Epsilon Psi – Killeen Nu Chapter.
“It’s an honor for us to be out here doing this,” Evans said. “This is a way for us to let them know they haven’t been forgotten and a way to show respect.”
As a veteran, Evans said she considers those fallen here Family and hopes the annual ceremony will continue.
“I would want someone to do this for me,” she said.
Volunteers of all ages participated in the event for the same reason – to honor and remember.
“It’s important to honor the fallen because they are the reason we can do things like this,” Brett Byler, a Boy Scout from Gatesville’s Troop 201, said. “They’ve given us all this time, we can spend some on them.”
Brett’s older brother said that the troop’s annual participation in the wreath-laying ceremony is a good example of respect and community service for the Scouts.
“I think this was a good experience for the scouts to come be reverent to those who served our country,” Austin Byler said. “It’s good that we do this. It just takes a few minutes to show the community we value veterans’ service.”
The wreaths will remain on the graves until Jan. 13, when volunteers will retrieve and prepare them for storage.