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Weather doesn't dampen Wreaths Across America celebration

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Posted: Sunday, December 13, 2009 12:00 pm

By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

The annual Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen was swimming against the tide Saturday morning. Rain threatened to drip out of cold, foggy skies and a featured speaker had to cancel due to illness, but the ceremony continued as stately as ever under the direction of the Disabled American Veterans.

The ceremony was the local cemetery's part in the nationwide Wreaths Across America program, which grew from the Arlington Wreath Project begun in 1992 by Morrill Worcestor of Worcester Wreath in New England to place 50,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery each Christmas season. After photos of the project posted on the Internet in 2005 generated national interest, the company began honoring local requests by sending seven wreaths to each participating community.

The local event began with a minute of silence at 11 a.m., the same minute observed by participants in more than 400 participating cemeteries, adjusted for time zone differences, said Theron Johnson, commander of DAV W.R. Hold Chapter 147 and master of ceremonies. It was noon at Arlington National Cemetery.

An earlier announcement said the ceremony would be canceled in case of rain, but a light rain waited until noon to start falling.

"I've seen pictures of ceremonies in Vermont and Wyoming in two or three feet of snow," Johnson quipped. "We should remember how lucky we've got it."

World War II veteran and prisoner of war Bob Bearden, an honored guest at previous ceremonies, was to have been the featured speaker but had to call in sick, Johnson said.

The rest of the ceremony went flawlessly. U.S. Rep. John Carter, State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen and Killeen Mayor Timothy Hancock all delivered brief remarks.

"Many of us will go Christmas shopping this afternoon. We must remember that we only get to do that because others of us are always sacrificing for our right to do it," Carter said. "This ceremony today shows how fast a good idea can spread in this country."

Hancock thanked the Patriot Guard, the motorcycle club that provides escorts for many patriotic functions. The Guard had no duties Saturday morning, but members were specifically invited, and about a dozen attended.

DAV post chaplain Edmond Jones gave the invocation and benediction, and a detachment from the 13th Sustainment Command at Fort Hood posted and retired colors. Active and retired members of the various services placed wreaths around the assembly area for their respective services:

Brig. Gen. William Grimsley, deputy commander of Fort Hood and III Corps, and Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur Coleman, for the Army;

Retired naval officer and submariner Gerald Cawiezel, for the Navy;

Retired Marine Corps officer Frank Leslie, for the Marine Corps;

Col. Seth Bretscher, for the Air Force;

Warrant Officer Mark Prentice, for the Coast Guard;

Command Sgt. Maj. James Rominger, for the Merchant Marine;

Edmond Jones, for the 93,129 servicemen of all branches whose last known status was prisoner of war or missing in action.

"These individuals have never returned to their families and homes," Johnson said. "We shall not forget you."

Johnson also noted that the Merchant Marine suffered more fatalities during World War II than any branch of the service.

Other organizations laying their own wreaths were members of the Navy Wives Club of Pflugerville, Special Forces Chapter 77 and the Heart of Texas chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Johnson called for a show of hands of Vietnam veterans and read a letter from a Marine serving in the Middle East saying that the conflict there has taught the nation to respect returning service members, recalling the cool or disrespectful welcomes given to some Southeast Asia veterans in the 1960s and '70s.

"After four years in operation, this cemetery has 1,800 graves, including 24 holding people killed in action," Johnson said. "It has a capacity of 50,000, so we expect to be honoring an ever greater number in years to come."

Contact Don Bolding at dbolding@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7557.

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