Families, friends pay tribute to vets with wreath laying
December 2, 2011
- Some attendees were there to pay tribute to loved ones. Others attended the ceremony to honor veterans they never knew.
- This year, volunteers laid more than 3,300.
FORT HOOD, Texas - Fred Rivera was among more than 1,000 people at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen for the sixth annual Wreaths for Vets wreath-laying ceremony on Nov. 26.
Some attendees were there to pay tribute to loved ones. Others attended the ceremony to honor veterans they never knew.
Escorted by more than 200 members of the local motorcycle community in a solemn procession, the Wreaths for Vets box truck loaded with red ribbon-adorned wreaths arrived early that morning to ensure the wreaths were in place for the ceremony.
Following a short tribute of prayer and patriotic songs, Families of those interred at the cemetery were invited to place wreaths on the graves of their loved ones. The Families were followed by volunteers to place the remaining wreaths.
Rivera was there to honor his son, Sgt. Paul Rivera.
Sergeant Rivera, 26, a military policeman, died Oct. 22 from injuries sustained when the vehicle he was traveling in was attacked and rolled over in Logar province, Afghanistan, according to a Department of Defense release.
To his Family, Sgt. Rivera gave his life in service to his country while carrying on a Family tradition of military service that included the noncommissioned officer's father, grandfather and uncle.
The wreath on Sgt. Rivera's grave was one of more than 3,300 laid that day.
In the six years since its inception, the wreath-laying ceremony has grown tenfold.
The ceremony began in 2006 when Jean Shine, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery, accepted six wreaths for the cemetery representing the different branches of service and POW/MIA, a practice that occurred in every other veterans cemetery across the nation.
As Jean and her daughter-in-law Hilary Shine planned to lay the six wreaths, they decided every grave needed a wreath -- all 300 graves.
"We called every Hobby Lobby and discount store in the area," Hilary said. "We bought every wreath and bow we could find."
Each year, the number of gravesites has grown by about 800, she said. This year, volunteers laid more than 3,300.
Eventually that number could grow to 50,000 graves.
The group is committed to continuing the tradition, regardless of how many graves there are in the cemetery, Hilary said.
As in other years, there was no shortage of people to lay the wreaths.
She was touched by the number of volunteers in attendance this year.
"This is absolutely the largest crowd we've had," she said. "Each year, we think we are going to need so many volunteers."
Every year, the ceremony brings volunteers from across all spectrums of the community, Hilary said.
"It's emotional to see so many who don't have a loved one buried here come and participate," she said. "We have everyone from those in the motorcycle community to the littlest of children laying wreaths."
Wreaths will adorn the graves until Jan. 8, when another group of volunteers will host a retrieval ceremony, Hilary said.
The senior Rivera said the ceremony was a fitting tribute to his son and the other veterans interred at the cemetery.
"It's awesome that all the veterans are remembered on a special day," Rivera, who drove in from Round Rock, said. "It was a very solemn, well-put-together ceremony."
This was the first year Rivera and his Family participated in the ceremony, but it will not be the last.
"This won my heart over. I didn't know about it before, but from now on we are a part of this." Rivera said. "I'm looking forward to next year."