Humbled. Inspired. Thankful.

Three words that Maj. Gen. J.T. Thompson used as he spoke to the large group of volunteers that had assembled on a beautiful Central Texas morning. This large central Texas community gathered to place wreaths at every grave at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. The words kept echoing through my head and my heart as I placed a wreath for Master Sgt. Harold E. Jones. I didn’t know Jones, but I am grateful for his service and sacrifice.

This past Saturday, I joined the thousands of volunteers who showed up to pay respects and give thanks. It was the weekend following Thanksgiving and Thompson said, “it was the highest form of thanks.”

I have to agree.

Prior to the placing of the wreaths, Cyd West of the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery spoke and shared a story about waiting for a flight. She went on to explain there were delays once that flight arrived at the gate and the grumbles that were heard from the waiting passengers. She then went on to explain a flag-draped casket came off the plane. As those waiting at the gate looked on in silence, waves of emotion rushed over the waiting passengers. She explained the pilot had announced to the flight that there was a fallen hero on board. I imagine the passengers on the flight were also quiet. I also imagine their hearts were full of gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice.

The story she shared was a reminder to all of us of the ultimate sacrifice and why we were all at the cemetery that day.

The Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery sponsors the Wreaths for Veterans project in the Central Texas area. The organization ensures each grave at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery has a wreath placed on it during the holiday season.

Wreaths for Vets is driven by the heart and passion of Jean Shine. She serves as the president of the organization and was recognized this past Saturday for the amazing program. Two things that were said about Jean Shine stood out to me: The director of the cemetery said Shine “always finds a yes in the no.” And in the words of the Veteran Land Board representative, this program’s success and why Jean puts so much into it has “everything to do with heart.”

There are two things we can take from Shine and put into action in our everyday lives.

As Jean wrapped up the instructions for this year, she touched on a story about a friend who was visiting who asked about word spreading about the event. The friend asked her, how do you know they will come? Jean’s response, “because they come from their hearts.”

The Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery serves as the honorable resting place for almost 8,000 veterans and family members. It fills my heart to see the thousands of volunteers that come together to make and place the wreaths on each of those 8,000 graves. The sea of wreaths and gratitude given on this very special day is a true testament to this great Central Texas community.

We come from the heart. Central Texas comes from the heart. Central Texas is my home, at least for now, but Central Texans show heart in so many ways. It makes you proud to live here, and it makes you proud to find ways to support our veterans as they lay in hallowed ground.

As the gates of freedom remain open, God bless our service members and their families, this great community and the United States of America.

Reena O’Brien is a military spouse and Herald correspondent. She lives on Fort Hood.

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