Sgt. Maj. William May knows the stories of 11 soldiers whose names are etched on tombstones at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen. But even if he didn’t, the member of III Corps Noncommissioned Academy said it wouldn’t matter.
“It doesn’t matter what service they were in. We are all a part of something,” May said Saturday at a Ride for Veterans Wreaths fundraising event at the cemetery.
With more soldiers dying every year, Sonja Skinner, a retired petty officer 1st class in the Navy and chairperson for Saturday’s event, said the organization’s goal is to place a wreath on every person buried at the cemetery on Nov. 24. The wreaths will remain on the graves throughout Christmas and into the new year.
It is important for the community to get involved and remember those veterans who gave their lives for us, Skinner said. “We need to recognize their service and honor them and let them know they’re not forgotten.”
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola said there is a sense of dignity at the cemetery and an air of honor permeates it.
“This is a place we can all come to be reverent and appreciate (the soldiers’) accomplishments — a place you can walk around and get a sense of the magnitude of the obligation and the commitment that was exhibited by them,” he said. “It is a place of honor.”
Some of the people buried at the cemetery died in battle, others in training or after a long, fruitful and productive life far removed from the military community, Ciotola said. But, they came back to be buried at the veterans cemetery because there was a sense of honor that resonated with them at the end of their lives.
“What defines us is we know a lot of the rest of those stories that will never be etched in those stones,” he said. “We know the beginning of their journey that took them through their service. We know what motivated them to do those things. We shared their heartaches. We shared their successes.”
May, who helps assemble wreaths before they are placed on the cemeteries, said the atmosphere is sometimes solemn, but other times it’s happy.
It’s important for the Killeen community to get involved because Fort Hood and soldiers are a huge part of it, he said. “Some folks are (participating in the fundraiser) because they never served and this is their way of giving back.”