Remembering our nation’s fallen military service members is something that comes naturally to most residents of the Killeen-Fort Hood community.
Situated in the shadow of the largest post in the U.S. armed forces, the Killeen area is reminded constantly of the service and sacrifice of its military men and women.
Across the area, parades, celebrations and patriotic programs honor and celebrate our military members, past and present.
Perhaps nowhere is the community’s respect and support more powerfully demonstrated than at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, just south of town, where thousands of our service members and their family members are buried and interred.
More than 8,000 headstones dot the rolling landscape of the cemetery, and many of those represent service members who have given their lives in armed conflict.
At the cemetery, the Central Texas Fallen Heroes Memorial bears the names and likenesses of Central Texans who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Smaller memorials honor those who gave their lives in the wars in Vietnam and Korea.
This special holiday is a time to remember and honor those sacrifices. With flags placed on each gravesite at the veterans cemetery this weekend, the dramatic image provides a sobering reminder of the magnitude of our service members’ dedication and sacrifice.
Each headstone, each flag, represents the loss of someone’s family member, loved one or friend.
Multiply the number of flags by the number of people each service member touched during his or her lifetime, and we can begin to understand the impact they made — both in their personal and professional lives, at home and abroad.
Those who served in combat zones no doubt have a unique and personal understanding of the value of each fallen military member — and the impact of each lost life.
Indeed, Memorial Day is a somber occasion, and the lives we honor should be remembered with dignity and respect.
With that in mind, it is more than a little incongruous that the Bell County Commissioners Court recently authorized the sale and use of fireworks starting May 22 and concluding Monday.
Unlike the Fourth of July, Memorial Day calls for solemn remembrance, not fireworks. If the rationale was to provide more revenue for the county’s fireworks retailers, it will no doubt succeed. But it is not in keeping with the holiday’s original spirit.
Across the country, what started out as a national observance dedicated to honoring the fallen has devolved into a frenzy of backyard barbecues, swim parties, travel specials and mattress sales.
And while this may seem like a natural progression in parts of the country that have little day-to-day connection to the military, it is unconscionable in this community.
Central Texans continue to distinguish themselves with their strong, continued support for the military, our veterans and our fallen service members.
One such example is the Wreaths for Vets program, which is committed to adorning the grave of each service member at the veterans cemetery with a holiday wreath between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day — a tradition that has continued since 2007.
Last fall, hundreds of volunteers gave their time to prep the wreaths, lay them on the graves and retrieve them in January. Just as the number of wreaths grows every year, so too does the number of volunteers who willingly give of their time to make the project a success.
One of the most dramatic displays of support came in January, when an unaccompanied burial of an Air Force veteran drew more than 2,000 people to the veterans cemetery to pay their respects.
The veteran, who served from 1964 to 1968, died at age 72 with no family or friends available to bury him. After announcements by the Texas General Land Office, the Herald, multiple news stations and even U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, so many people responded from around the state that the funeral had to be postponed for 20 minutes to allow time for everyone to make it to the viewing area.
Thankfully, no service members from Fort Hood or Central Texas were killed in combat in the past year. Yet, we continue to remember those who gave their lives in the defense of our nation, who paid the ultimate price so that we may continue to enjoy the liberties we hold dear.
This holiday weekend, we all stand together in honoring the sacrifices of our fallen service members from every armed conflict.
We should take the time to pause and reflect on the debt we owe all those who have died in defense of our nation.
More importantly, we must continue to honor their sacrifice all year long.
That’s the true spirit of Memorial Day.