Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9192 Commander Hank Haun laid a wreath bearing roses, lilies, daisies, irises and snapdragons at Ted C. Connell’s gravesite Sunday afternoon at Killeen Memorial Cemetery, as part of an annual ceremony honoring Connell’s life, military service and activism on behalf of veterans.
About 25 people attended the event, which lasted from 4 to 4:30 p.m. It was the 11th ceremony since Connell died Sept. 16, 2001.
After serving five years in World War II and rising to lieutenant colonel, Connell was the national commander in chief for the VFW from 1960 to 1961, the second-youngest member and first Texan to serve in the position.
“He gave me the oath of national commander from my hospital bed,” said past national commander James E. Nier. “He was beside me from the day I got in until the day I got out.”
Nier’s kidneys failed in 1996, when he was preparing to be sworn in to the national position in Louisville, Ky., he said. It was the first time a swearing-in was recorded and broadcast to spectators in the Louisville Convention Center, as Connell read Nier the oath in the intensive care unit.
From 1962 to 1966, Connell served as Killeen mayor, when the city was emerging from a recession and the Vietnam War brought more soldiers to Fort Hood and more residents to the city.
Connell served during a “difficult time in our history,” said current Mayor Dan Corbin. “On this day, we remember him and recognize his service to Killeen.”
“He started almost all his speeches with, ‘Duty, honor, country,’” said Connell’s widow, Diane Connell. “He spent a lifetime making sure people were taken care of.”
Connell often silently covered the checks of veterans he saw at restaurants, pulling servers aside and slipping out before his friends could find out who he was, Nier said.
“He wanted no accolades,” Nier said. “To Ted, everyone mattered. ... He was a true American hero.”