By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
About 300 people gathered in cold, drizzly weather Sunday afternoon at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery to retrieve some 2,100 wreaths laid on the graves the Saturday after Thanksgiving to honor the veterans resting there during the celebration of the season.
After a short ceremony with addresses by Jean Shine, chairwoman of the Friends of Central Texas Veterans Cemetery, and Killeen First United Methodist Church Pastor Skip Blancett, people who have family members buried in the cemetery were invited to retrieve wreaths from their graves. Then, others were invited to come forward and pick up the remaining wreaths.
Shine told attendees how to distinguish wreaths that can be used again from those worn out and asked them to separate them to be put onto separate poles. She asked them to take care not to pick up private wreaths. Wreaths formerly were stored at the First United Methodist Church, but this year, they are going to a city of Killeen warehouse.
"We're going to be here, rain or shine," she said. "The people buried here didn't choose what kind of weather they were going to fight in."
She told the crowd, "We didn't expect as many people to be here as at the wreath-laying ceremony, but I'm amazed at how many people have come. Please approach the graves reverently. Slightly bow your head and then remove the wreath slowly and carefully."
Blancett said, "We express thanks to Jean for the battles fought to organize this ceremony and to cemetery personnel for their assistance. We're showing that it takes more than a few people to make a village. The greatest gift you can give our veterans who have passed on is to be here and show you won't forget."
Shine, who heads the Harker Heights real estate firm The Shine Team, her daughter-in-law Hilary Shine, colleague Cyd West and others started the tradition of laying wreaths on every grave at the cemetery for the holiday season after attending a Wreaths Across America ceremony four years ago. During that ceremony, part of a nationwide program, wreaths for each branch of the service are laid.
The first year, the cemetery only contained about 400 graves, but they've increased exponentially since then.
Shine formed Friends of Central Texas Veterans Cemetery to mobilize volunteers to prepare wreaths and organize the ceremonies.
Last year, the organization secured official approval for the ceremony from Texas Veterans Land Board Chairman Jerry Patterson, who extended the blessing to all other state veterans cemeteries to open the way for similar ceremonies to start elsewhere.
Among those attending Sunday was veteran John Costello,
"I served 26 years in the Army, and I feel a kinship with all the people buried here. I wasn't at the wreath-laying ceremony, but I'm glad I didn't have to miss this," he said.
Juana Juarez attended the ceremony with her family to retrieve a wreath from the grave of her sister, Army veteran Diana Mota.
"Diana had been to Iraq and returned and then died after she got back," she said. "We need to do things like this more often. We really can't do nearly enough to remember the people buried here."
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.