By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
The fifth annual holiday wreath-laying campaign at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery concluded Sunday, when sunny skies graced the several hundred volunteers who collected some 2,400 wreaths laid in November.
The Friends of the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery-sponsored event typified the community that is greater Killeen, said volunteers, including Harker Heights resident Ret. Lt. Col. Daryl Foss.
The 28-year Army veteran and South Dakota native was last stationed at Fort Hood and decided to stay upon retiring, he said, due in part to the area's support of the troops.
"There area so many programs this community has to offer," he said, stripping red ribbons from wreaths before stacking them for transport. "This is just one of many."
Foss, 46, has helped out with Wreaths for Vets for the last several years, he said, and sees laying wreaths on the graves of veterans as an opportunity to honor "those that served before me, with me, and those that continue to serve."
His college-age children helped lay wreaths the Saturday after Thanksgiving, he said, and his visiting parents were present Sunday to help collect them.
His father, Verne Foss, 81, never served, he said. He graduated high school just after World War II and started raising a large family before the next draft.
But, he said, "I think it's just tremendous that we do this for our veterans."
Wreaths for Vets is the brainchild of Killeen resident Jean Shine, Friends president.
The wreath-laying campaign, which began soon after the cemetery opened in 2005, has come full-circle in ways Shine never could have anticipated, she said.
"A lady came up to me and said, 'I'm going to San Antonio.' Would you like me to lay wreaths for your family?'" she said, explaining that her parents and other relatives are buried at Fort Sam Houston. "Wonderful things come out of this.
"I'm laying (wreaths) for all veterans, those in San Antonio, Arlington and California. It's a way to remember them all, honor them all."
The collected wreaths were transported in three small trucks to City of Killeen property for storage. The Friends have secured a donated large truck for future campaigns, Shine said.
Because December was so sunny, many of the wreaths are faded and will have to be retired and replaced before next year, Shine said. According to information from the Friends, the cemetery is also growing at a rate of 800 graves each year.
The organization is planning a car-friendly motorcycle ride fundraiser for later this year.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.