Judith Nix looked down at a white marble headstone with two red poinsettias to its sides. The emotions were still fresh and the tears still uncontrollable.
Nix walked away from her husband’s grave, trying to regain her composure before leaving for the two-hour drive home to Glen Rose. But she didn’t want to leave without her love, retired Master Sgt. William Nix Sr., by her side. So, she slowly walked back and the memories that flooded her mind became real again.
“It just hurts. It still hurts,” Nix said. “People say your heart, your body, doesn’t feel things, your organs don’t feel things, but it does. It physically still hurts that he’s not with me anymore.”
During her monthly visits, Nix noticed the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery covered with green wreaths and learned about Wreaths for Vets, a nonprofit organization that lays wreaths on each grave for the holidays.
With the turn of the new year, more than 500 volunteers helped retrieve and load about 4,000 wreaths into an 18-wheeler Sunday for storage until next Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I’m just so shocked to see so many people out here. That’s why I made it a point to drive 100 miles (to be here),” Nix said. “It’s just so good to see this many people.”
This year, the event had special meaning for Jean Shine, president of the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, whose friend, retired Maj. Gen. Stewart Meyer, was buried Friday.
After serving combat tours during World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Meyer went on to serve the Central Texas community as mayor of Harker Heights from 1993 to 1997.
“Our veterans give back to us. They don’t quit when they hang up the uniform,” Shine said. “It’s just such a blessing to live in a community like this. It’s so moving, and it’s so warm.”
From newborns to young soldiers and retired veterans, the number of people buried is continuously increasing, but Shine’s goal to have a wreath on every tombstone for the holidays won’t change.
“The cemetery will go up to at least 50,000 and we’ll be at about 5,000 or more next year,” she said. “We’re looking for new ways to reach out to people and to be able to say thank you (to the service members).”
As retired Staff Sgt. Keith McMurray waited to load a metal rod bearing about 20 wreaths into the truck, he honored the fallen soldiers whose families were unable to visit them throughout the holidays.
“I feel like I can bridge that gap and be like a surrogate to go in and do my part,” McMurray said. “Just the personal satisfaction to know that when my time comes, someone will take care of me. I’m looking forward to being buried out here one day.”
Nix plans on returning in November to prepare and lay the wreaths for veterans like her husband, who died suddenly in March after undergoing heart surgery. Just like her husband’s death, the community’s support was unexpected.
“It’s nice that somebody cares so much,” Nix said. “It’s moving to know that somebody had taken care of all these people that others don’t take care of anymore.”
Weaving in and out of the rows of tombstones, Nix made her way out of the cemetery, taking with her the memories of fishing, camping and building a house in the country with her and her husband’s own hands.
“We have a lot of good memories. I miss my fishing buddy,” Nix said. “It was just really emotional. It still is. But I get past it and I go on. I’ve got things to do.”