Thousands watched Monday as a white cloth was pulled off a black stone slate, revealing the etched names and portraits of six soldiers who died in battle during the past year.
A 21-gun salute and the reading of family members’ memorial letters preceded the unveiling of the ninth memorial slate at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.
Jack Slayton, director of Texas State Veterans Cemeteries, said the Central Texas Memorial Day Ceremony drew 2,000 to 3,000 visitors, consistent with other years’ attendance numbers.
The event included speeches by Maj. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin and Harker Heights Mayor Mike Aycock; the traditional laying of wreaths by veterans’ organizations; musical performances; and the posting of the colors by Fort Hood soldiers.
Guest speaker Joe Lombardi welcomed the crowd to the cemetery — containing the remains of more than 2,000 veterans — overlooking Fort Hood.
Memorial Day is more profound than parties and barbecues might make it seem, Ierardi said.
“The significance of Memorial Day may be lost on some, but the people at this gathering will never forget its meaning or why we are here to pay tribute to those without whom our guaranteed freedoms are not possible,” he said.
Ierardi, the acting commander of Fort Hood, said he was amazed at the level of support that Central Texans have for military members, and called them “the lifeblood of this military community,” admiring them for their pure patriotism and the respect they show uniformed men and women.
“You are the reason why we proudly call Fort Hood, The Great Place,” Ierardi said.
One by one, members from 19 veterans’ organizations laid flower wreaths in a semicircle on the edge of a brick plaza while Lombardi invited them to come up. The organizations included five posts from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Killeen’s American Legion Post No. 223 and Auxiliary, and Genevieve Chapter 94 of the Women’s Army Corps Veterans Association.
Attendees walked along Memorial Path, which connects the plaza to the cemetery’s Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial, for the annual unveiling of the slate.
“It’s important that their names and pictures are there, so we don’t forget what they look like, so they’re not faceless memorials,” Corbin said. “Today, we mourn the loss of hundreds of thousands of service members who served their country.”
Pat Turck, president of the Fallen Heroes Memorial, read letters from family members of the six memorialized soldiers: Pfc. Jeffrey L. Rice, Staff Sgt. Robert A. Massarelli, Sgt. Michael J. Strachota, Sgt. Moises J. Gonzalez, Capt. Aaron D. Istre and Brig. Gen. Terence J. Hildner. At the site, country music artist Jackie Cox performed “Patriotic Song.”
After the reading, a Fort Hood firing team conducted a 21-gun salute, and taps was performed by a trumpeter.
Most of the crowd was gone by noon, but roses laid by loved ones remained on the slate’s foundation.