KILLEEN — Even though Maj. Gen. J.T. Thomson III wore four layers of clothes beneath his uniform due to the frigid temperatures Saturday at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, he clearly stated the importance of being there.

“The holidays may be over,” said Thomson, deputy commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood. “We’re collecting these wreaths, but what’s not going to change is the thanks due to our deceased veterans.”

Thomson added, “Every day we keep these veterans in our thoughts and prayers.”

Thomson expressed gratitude to the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery for organizing the Wreaths for Vets project each year.

“It’s so good to see such a large crowd, especially the young ‘uns,” Thomson said.

Keeping warm may have been a priority for those youngsters, some of whom played games of tag before setting off to gather the wreaths with their parents.

Others found a bit of warmth in the coffee and hot chocolate provided by Knights of Columbus Council 9930 from St. Paul Chong Hasang Church in Harker Heights.

Another kind of warmth came in the form of Sarah Rench’s moving a capella rendition of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which she sang during the brief ceremony near the cemetery’s main entrance.

Rench and dozens of other members of Grace Christian Center, Killeen, were among the volunteers who lent their time to the project on Saturday.

The Blue Knights Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club was another group volunteering. Al Langford, local chapter president, said, “We do this out of respect for our fallen comrades, no matter what the weather is.” Most of the Blue Knights are retired military or have served in the military, he explained.

Justin Lozano, a Hutto High School sophomore member of the Air Force Junior ROTC, played Taps as the crowd moved to gather the wreaths.

As the volunteers passed among the grave markers, most poignant was Gilberto Martinez, a retired veteran, who paused at each grave along one row to silently thank the veteran for his service before removing the wreath.

The number of volunteers may have been half that of when the wreaths were laid after Thanksgiving, but their care and concern for the veterans’ graves showed through in how they respectfully collected more than 7,000 wreaths, removed the now-faded bows, placed the wreaths on poles and carried them to the trucks where they will be stored until needed again at the end of the year.

Donations toward the 2018 wreath laying can be made at www.wreathsforvets.org.

jferraro@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7568

254-501-7568 | jferraro@kdhnews.com

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