Amidst a sea of white headstones, more than 400 people collected Christmas wreaths Sunday afternoon during the culminating event of the eighth annual Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery’s Wreaths for Veterans project at the cemetery.
Despite the bitter cold wind, Sgt. Secoya Allen, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, happily gathered wreaths alongside fellow members of the nonprofit motorcycle club, Unleashed Beasts.
“In the club, we’ve lost a few friends that are buried here. It’s a good thing to do,” Allen said. “It makes you feel good.”
Local motorcycle groups are active in community service, said Amy Shores. She is a member of the Queens of Sheba, an all-female motorcycle club.
“We come out here every year. Many of our members are military veterans. It’s a beautiful thing,” Shores said of the community support for the military.
“This is our way of paying respect to the fallen soldiers,” said Pam Townsel, an Army veteran. “It touches your heart.” she said, citing the mixture of sadness and pride she feels as she looks out over the rows of grave markers, contemplating “our brothers and sisters in combat.”
Each year the cemetery adds about 1,000 graves.
“We started with 400 wreaths, and now we have over 5,000,” said Hilary Shine, Killeen city spokeswoman. The event is a massive undertaking that requires thousands of volunteers and fundraising throughout the year.
The wreaths were prepared before Thanksgiving, and then placed at the headstones Nov. 30 by thousands of volunteers.
Following Sunday’s retrieval, the wreaths will remain in storage until next year.
Six cadets and four senior members of the Shoemaker Composite Squadron, of Belton, and Apollo Composite Squadron, of Georgetown, Civil Air Patrol attended the wreath gathering in uniform.
“It’s not as flashy as putting (the wreaths) out, but we do the things that need to be done,” said Cadet Collin Grahl.