By Jackie Stone

Killeen Daily Herald

The Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery are again seeking volunteers for its annual campaign to prepare around 2,400 holiday wreaths to adorn headstones at the local veterans cemetery.

The groups' Wreaths for Vets program will meet Nov. 20 at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Killeen to prepare and decorate the silk wreaths.

Since the veterans cemetery opened south of Killeen in 2006, the annual remembrance has grown from 400 wreaths in the first holiday season, said Jean Shine, a realtor and president of the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.

Shine said the placement of the wreaths is "our duty" to the soldiers and their families.

"It's one way to honor them and show that we will never forget them or their service to our country," she said.

In 2006, the Wreaths Across America organization placed six wreaths at the new cemetery - one for every branch of the military. Shine said when she went to that ceremony and saw the then-roughly 400 graves without wreaths, "it broke my heart to look out at 400 graves that first year without any wreaths."

As of now, there have been around 2,600 burials at the veterans cemetery, said cemetery director Charles Walden. While there are many families of veterans in the area who tend and decorate the final resting places of their loved ones, Walden said that isn't always practical for families because the cemetery draws veterans from all over Central Texas.

That's why he appreciates the volunteers who take care of those whose families can't be there.

"I get real excited when I talk about it, because what they do to help the cemetery just amazes me," he said. "There are a lot of people that try and take care of veterans cemeteries - you always have volunteers for the veterans, so it's not a highly unusual thing. However, because of Fort Hood and the Killeen area, we tend to have an abnormally large group of volunteers to help us."

Shine said last year 300 to 400 volunteers showed up to help prepare the wreaths, with some coming from Georgetown and Burnet. Around twice as many helped lay the wreaths alongside Gold Star Families after the ceremony in late November.

This year, Shine said, she hopes more volunteers will turn out to match the growth in numbers of the wreaths.

"Everything that we do is 100 percent volunteer and donations," she said. "It's been slow this year and I think it's just reminding people that, all of a sudden, it's upon us."

The organization is also seeking volunteers for the wreath laying on Nov. 27.

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