“There is no greater love than this, there is no greater gift that could ever be given: to be willing to die so another might live — there is no greater love than this.”
These words, inspired by a New Testament passage, are from a song by the contemporary Christian music artist, Steven Curtis Chapman. They sum up the lives of many of the people buried in the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
Whether the service member died in action or later from wounds received, or whether he or she died after serving in uniform as a veteran, that soldier, sailor, airman or Marine was willing to die so another might live.
The headstones, with the names and dates of our veterans etched therein, tell us in a succinct though insufficient way about each individual. The words we read on the markers represent only a tiny fraction of who these veterans were; they tell us so little of their lives of selfless service. A cemetery like this, where the mortal remains of so many faithful servants rest, is our sincere attempt to convey our admiration and appreciation for what they did for their nation and for their comrades in arms.
I have said on more than one occasion, and firmly believe, that our nation and those who have served in our armed forces are and have always been a force for good in the world. Defending our own citizens and our friends and allies around the world, helping those who cannot defend themselves, is what our American service members have always done.
The silent headstones marking the final resting places of some great Americans will be adorned with Christmas wreaths this holiday season. A group of grateful volunteers will reverently lay wreaths on the graves.
Wreaths have been a part of mourning and grieving since ancient times. It is said the first wreaths that adorned a memorial site were intended to both honor the deceased and to symbolize eternal life with that never ending circle. The Christmas wreath, for people of faith, also recalls everlasting life through Jesus, the one for whom the holiday is observed. Many of us take fresh flowers to leave at the resting place of our loved ones throughout the year. I’ve done it myself.
I also left a heart-shaped rock one time on the headstone of a young soldier who died in combat. His mother had invited me to his gravesite and I just knew I wanted to leave something there to mark my visit. So I brought a rock from my home in Virginia, a rock I’d found by the Sea of Galilee on a trip to Israel a couple of years before. This young man was from Alaska, so I brought the rock all the way to the National Veterans Cemetery at Fort Richardson to leave it there. We leave items at these sites as much for ourselves as for the person we are remembering when we do so. As physical beings, we often need a physical action, a concrete activity or ceremony, to help us convey our emotions or to show our respect and our love for another.
It is fitting to lay a wreath during this time of year on the graves of those who have gone before us. It is important that we pay our respects to those who so selflessly spent their lives in service to something greater than themselves. But during the holiday season, one that is all about family and being together, remembrance of those we’ve lost is so very bittersweet. They are no longer celebrating with their families, but the memories of past holidays with them will often prompt a wistful smile at the memory. For those of us who don’t know anyone buried there, it is good to remember that the families of these veterans have loved ones who miss them still. For many, the loss is keenly felt during the holidays.
The reasons a person joins the Military are many and varied, but every one of those buried in a veterans’ cemetery served honorably. And every person who loved them, spouse or child, also served in a unique way that only a military family member can understand and appreciate. The support, love and commitment to the service member are evident in the fact that there are many family members buried there alongside their beloved. Of course, the support, love and commitment the service member had for their family and our country is portrayed silently, but irrefutably, in the very fact that their earthly remains find repose in the veterans’ cemetery.
The act of reverently placing the simple Christmas wreath on the graves there is a humble exercise that can never adequately express our gratitude but, once all the wreaths are arranged the red ribbon bedecked greenery illustrates to anyone who visits or passes by, that we will never forget. We will always seek to remember that our freedom comes at a great price. And a lifetime of service to our nation is a noble and honorable calling. Whether that veteran died fighting in a war or many years later after their service had ended, honorable military service defines the character of a person. All of us understand that and so we are moved to outwardly show our gratitude toward those who have served our nation and passed on before us.
For those who would like to help in the effort to decorate the graves of our American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and their loved ones who are interred there, you can go to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to assist. Contact information and more information can be found on the Wreaths for Vets website at wreathsforvets.org.
The Wreaths for Vets group, a nonprofit, also needs volunteers preparing the wreaths this Saturday, and will need help retrieving the wreaths in early January.
Lynda MacFarland is the wife of the III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general. She is a proud Army wife, mom and advacate for military famiies.