By Don Bolding
Fort Hood Herald
The annual Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen was held Saturday morning despite some setbacks.
Rain threatened to drip out of cold, foggy skies and a featured speaker had to cancel due to illness, but the ceremony continued under the direction of the Disabled American Veterans.
The ceremony was the local community's part in the nationwide Wreaths Across America program, which grew from the Arlington Wreath Project begun in 1992 by Morrill Worcestor of Worcester Wreath in New England to place 50,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery each Christmas season.
After photos of the project posted on the Internet in 2005 generated national interest, the company began honoring local requests by sending seven wreaths to each participating community.
The local event began with a minute of silence at 11 a.m., the same minute observed by participants in more than 400 participating cemeteries, adjusted for time zone differences, said Theron Johnson, commander of the Disabled American Veterans' W.R. Hold Chapter 147 and master of ceremonies. It was noon at Arlington National Cemetery where about 6,000 volunteers placed 16,000 wreaths on graves.
The rest of the ceremony went flawlessly. U.S. Rep. John Carter, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen and Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock all delivered brief remarks.
Disabled American Veterans post chaplain Edmond Jones gave the invocation and benediction, and a detachment from the 13th Sustainment Command at Fort Hood posted and retired colors.
Active and retired members of the various services placed wreaths around the assembly area for their respective services:
Brig. Gen. William Grimsley, deputy commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, and Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur Coleman, III Corps and Fort Hood senior noncommissioned officer, for the Army;
Retired naval officer and submariner Gerald Cawiezel, for the Navy;
Retired Marine Corps officer Frank Leslie, for the Marine Corps;
Col. Seth Bretscher, for the Air Force;
Warrant Officer Mark Prentice, for the Coast Guard;
Command Sgt. Maj. James Rominger, for the Merchant Marines;
Edmond Jones, for the 93,129 servicemen of all branches whose last known status was prisoner of war or missing in action.
Other organizations laying their own wreaths were members of the Navy Wives Club of Pflugerville, Special Forces Chapter 77 and the Heart of Texas chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Johnson called for a show of hands of Vietnam veterans and read a letter from a Marine serving in the Middle East saying that the conflict there has taught the nation to respect returning troops, recalling the cool or disrespectful welcomes given to some Southeast Asia veterans in the 1960s and '70s.
"After four years in operation, this cemetery has 1,800 graves, including 24 holding people killed in action," Johnson said. "It has a capacity of 50,000, so we expect to be honoring an ever greater number in years to come."
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.