By Kim Steele

Killeen Daily Herald

Waves of volunteers swept across bone-white tombstones Sunday, braving a chilly wind to pick up 3,300 green silk wreaths with red bows during a retrieval ceremony at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.

The wreaths, sponsored by the Friends of the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery, were crafted the weekend before Thanksgiving and placed on each gravesite the weekend after that holiday. Jean Shine, president of the Friends organization, said this is the fifth year for the event.

"This is such a beautiful site and it's so reverent," said Shine as a crowd gathered for the ceremony. "We do this because we can. The veterans buried here have given years of service - and some their lives - to their country so we have the freedom to be able to gather and pay our respects."

The tombstones representing each branch of military service and war told the silent stories of the men and women buried at the cemetery. Some displayed special honors - Pearl Harbor survivor, Purple Heart, Iwo Jima survivor, Bronze Star, Silver Star and Meritorious Service Medal.

Others carried touching remembrances, such as Patriot, Served with Honor, Loved God and Country and All Gave Some And Some Gave All. Nearby, volunteers mingled at black walls etched with the pictures of veterans who gave their lives while fighting various wars.

Volunteers walked through the cemetery, placing wreaths on long metal poles and carrying them to the back of a large truck donated by Towne Services Moving in Killeen that will transport and store the decorations until November. Most of the wreaths appeared to be in good shape.

Marlene Fey, a volunteer from Nolanville helping retrieve wreaths for her third year, said she got involved through her church, First United Methodist in Killeen, after hearing Shine talk about the project. Fey recently retired from the U.S. Army and decided to settle in the area.

"I wanted to pay my respects to the fallen veterans and make sure they were shown love during the holiday season," said Fey. "This is definitely special to me. I hope that after I'm dead and gone, people will remember me like this. We need to do things that honor our veterans."

Other volunteers, such as Olivia Perry, 5, of Harker Heights, carried handfuls of red bows to a collection bin. Olivia was there with her mother, Morgan Perry, to honor a deceased friend of Olivia's father, Capt. Michael Perry, who serves in the 509th Forward Support Company at Fort Hood and is in Afghanistan.

Mark Boyce, of American Legion Post 573 in Harker Heights, and about 35 other members showed up on motorcycles to help direct people and traffic during the event. Boyce said the organization has been helping out for two years and appreciates the opportunity to participate.

"We're veterans and these are our fallen brothers," said Boyce. "What we're doing here is important. Someone has to take care of the veterans, whether they're dead or alive. We can't forget them."

Five members of the Buffalo Soldiers 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry in Killeen also showed up to retrieve wreaths and show their respects to the veterans interred at the cemetery. President Kevin Briscoe said the group has been helping out for three years.

"I love my country and especially those who gave everything for it," said Briscoe. "It takes dedication and sacrifice to do that. This is a small way of giving back to them for their ultimate gift to us."

Contact Kim Steele at ksteele@kdhnews.

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