It is an unfortunate fact of life that cemeteries will never stop growing. More and more time and effort has to go into making sure cemeteries are properly cared for, and so it is truly a sight to behold each year as hundreds of volunteers give up part of their day to head to the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen to participate in the annual wreath retrieval.
“My family has been participating in the wreath laying and retrieval since 2017, when my father was buried out here,” Evette Tali said. “That is actually how we first found out about this. Now every year the entire immediate family — most of us are local — come out to volunteer for this. Usually there are about 30 of us that come together as a group.”
The annual wreath retrieval is the final of three wreath events organized by the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. The events begin at the end of the year before Christmas with a day each for both wreath preparation and wreath laying, while the wreath retrieval is typically done in the second week of January. Originally scheduled for Saturday, the pickup was postponed until Sunday due to Friday night’s storm.
“We’ve participated in the wreath preparation and pickup for the last four years since we have moved back here,” military spouse Maria Ramirez said. “I like that so many people come out to help and give back to the community and help take care of these heroes, because they are the real heroes.”
Every year the needs of the organization grow, as wreaths and bows need to be replaced and new ones need to be purchased as the cemetery is filled with more graves. In order to help assist with the ongoing efforts of the organization, local non-profit 5 Hills Jeeps Foundation raised $700 to donate to the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
“As a veteran myself, it is heartwarming to see the community response to this event,” foundation board member David Douglass said. “It is very near and dear to my heart. When my parents pass, they are going to be buried out here, and when my time comes I will join them out here. Seeing the response, and especially the number of children and youth organizations that participate, really makes me hopeful.”
Event organizer Jean Shine said she was pleased with the turnout at the retrieval, particularly due to the last minute schedule change.
“I couldn’t believe we had such a good turnout today after changing the date like that,” Shine said. “The feeling that you get when you do this just warms your heart. It brings tears to your eyes, but they are tears of gratitude.”