By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Central Texas bikers took to the roads Saturday to raise money to honor fallen veterans.
The Friends of Central Texas Veterans Cemetery, a nonprofit local group, hosted the inaugural "Ride for Wreaths" Charity Dart Run at the rodeo complex near the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
The goal was to raise money to put a silk wreath and a red ribbon on every gravesite at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
Every rider paid a $20 registration fee to benefit the cemetery and then took off for a morning ride.
After the ride, the bikers were treated to live music, food and raffles in the afternoon.
The ride was especially meaningful for Councilman Juan Rivera, a 27-year veteran of the Army, and Maj. Rafael Nigaglioni of the 4th Infantry Division.
Rivera and Nigaglioni have been riding together since June.
Nigaglioni will be deploying for Iraq in December, ahead of schedule, and the ride was one of the last opportunities for the two to ride together before the deployment.
Besides a passion for riding, Rivera rode Saturday with one main purpose. "Support," he said. "After 27 years in the service, I can ride to give back something more. And, of course, I love to ride."
In another gesture of support, Jean Shine, president of Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, passed her silver angel coin along to Nigaglioni.
"She even said I could drill a hole in the coin, so I could wear it and have it with me at all times," Nigaglioni said.
Shine's gesture provides only an inkling of her support for veterans.
Her respect arises from the service of close relatives. Shine's grandfather and father served in World War II and her husband, brother and brother-in-law fought in the Vietnam War.
"My father was injured but not killed in World War II, so a Purple Heart is always near to my heart," Shine said.
The event is especially significant to the Killeen area because Fort Hood is such an important part of the community, Shine said.
"It's a healing time for our community, which is so patriotic," she said.
The event was organized out of a desire to see not just a few, but all gravesites decorated with wreaths, Shine said.
"'Wreaths Across America' brings a wreath for each of the seven branches of the service, but when I saw graves without a wreath, my heart told me every site needed one," Shine said.
Shine's drive began last year. With a few donations and much of her own money, Shine purchased 400 wreaths and ribbons to put on the gravesites.
The inspiration for the event came from Arlington National Cemetery, which hosts a motorcycle ride to get wreath donations, Shine said.
After 400 wreaths last year, Shine anticipates that 900 wreaths will be laid this year.
The wreaths will be made Nov. 24 at 9 a.m. at the First United Methodist Church on Gray Street in downtown Killeen.
During a Dec. 5 ceremony at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, the wreaths will be laid by families of veterans.
Shine hopes the project will grow to involve every rider and veteran from Austin to Waco, since the cemetery is a regional cemetery that represents all Central Texas veterans, she said.
Contact Victor O'Brien at email@example.com or call (254)501-7468