FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas --- The Fort Sam Houston community honored the late Sgt. Maj. of the Army Leon L. Van Autreve during a wreath-laying ceremony Friday at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

Van Autreve's wife Rita, their niece Joyce Buffalino and her husband Vic were in attendance at the ceremony, which has been held every year on Flag Day and the Army's birthday since Van Autreve passed away in March 2002.

"Because of his love for the Army and the flag it's fitting that we honor him today as we celebrate the Army's birthday," said Command Sgt. Maj. Howard Riles, command sergeant major, Fort Sam Houston and Army Medical Department Center and School.

Van Autreve was the fourth sergeant major of the Army and a highly decorated Soldier who participated in the invasion of Port Lyautey, Africa, and served in Vietnam. He joined the Army in 1941 from Delphos, Ohio, and retired in 1975 with 31 years of service. He passed away in March 2002.

"There is no doubt that Sergeant Major of the Army Van Autreve strengthened the backbone of the Army," said Riles. "When talking to him, his values were evident - his love for country, the flag, his wife and Family."

Sgt. Maj. Aaron Keener, the new deputy commandant at the NCO Academy, said he felt privileged to be at the ceremony and looked forward to serving at Fort Sam Houston in a building named after such a great man.

The NCO Academy here was renamed the Van Autreve Hall in September 2002, six months after Van Autreve's death, in honor of his contributions to the AMEDDC&S and support to the academy's mission.

During his speech, Keener directed his remarks to Van Autreve's wife, "The Army, the Fort Sam Houston community, and this country is forever indebted to you and your husband. I'm truly honored to be a part of today's ceremony."

Members of the Fort Sam Houston Sergeant Audie Murphy Club - SMA Leon L. Van Autreve Chapter presented a wreath in honor of Van Autreve. The club, established in 2000, was designated the SMA Van Autreve Chapter in 2002.

"I'm humbled by what you've done for him," said Rita after the wreath-laying ceremony.

Additionally, Soldiers from the Caisson Section, Fort Sam Houston Military Honor Guard, brought Van Autreve the horse as a sign of respect to the late sergeant major of the Army. The 10-year-old horse is part of the Caisson Section here.

The Buffalinos said they were touched by the ceremony. "It's amazing what they think of him," Vic said. "I knew him for 55 years and he was the most fantastic person."

While Van Autreve passed away six years ago, "His spirit is here today with those of us who had the pleasure to know him," Riles said.