FORT KNOX, Kentucky - More than 100 volunteers from U.S. Army Human Resources Command and other units and organizations on Fort Knox pitched in Jan. 18 to remove memorial wreaths from gravesites at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery Central in Radcliff, Kentucky.
Many hands made for light work, and the volunteers and cemetery staff had the wreaths gathered and transported to an on-site collection point in record time, said cemetery director Chuck Heater.
"I was a bit taken aback myself," said Heater. "They usually wait on me, but they didn't this time and I didn't want to slow them down. They know what they're doing."
The turnout was augmented by a call for volunteers put out through Fort Knox channels by Steve Egan, a human resources specialist with U.S. Army Human Resources Command. Like many who work on the post, Egan, who is also the senior vice commander of VFW Post 10281 in Vine Grove, straddles the divide between the active military and the surrounding communities.
"I've got a history on Fort Knox that goes back to '74," said Egan. "I did basic here, was stationed here twice, and I retired on the same parade field, Brook Field." He has been a lifetime member or VFW Post 10281 since February 1996.
The post shares responsibility for the major annual ceremonies at the cemetery with the American Legion in Elizabethtown, Egan said. The VFW organizes Veterans Day observances in the fall and the Legion oversees Memorial Day ceremonies in the late spring.
"Our VFW post has a working relationship with that cemetery," said Egan.
After putting out a call through the good offices of the Fort Knox garrison command, he received 52 responses from Soldiers and civilians with a slew of units and organizations, including the Human Resources Command, U.S. Army Recruitment Command, the garrison headquarters, Ireland Army Hospital, 4th Cavalry and the Warrant Officers Association among others.
The turnout was impressive and made for a short time in the field.
"There were maybe a couple of hundred, it was quite a bit," Heater said, who said appreciated the many helping hands. "I got a large task and a small crew, but we get great support because it's such a patriotic area," he said.
"It's a perfect day for picking them up," said Donna Betson, who coordinates Wreathes Across America funding raising for the annual event. "The vets are always here when the word goes out. Thirty-six hundred wreaths got picked up in nothing flat."
Betson, like many on hand for the clean-up or to visit loved ones, has a close connection to the cemetery. "Because my Dad's here, and now my Mom's with him. So it's personal," she said.
Her father, Paul Evans, served with the Army in Korea and Vietnam. "Twenty-one and a half years, 17 moves and six kids," said Betson. "My husband is a vet. He'll be buried here and so will I. Kentucky has always been home. It's always a sense of peace whenever you come back to Kentucky," she said.
Army Veteran Alex Harmon Jr., along with his two youngest sons, Joe and Marc, were at the cemetery Sunday as well, visiting the grave of his wife and the young mens' mother, Teresa Harmon, who had passed away the previous week at the age of 60.
A native of Inez, Kentucky, Harmon served from 1967-1970, including a tour as a radiographic specialist with the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam. The son of a Kentucky coal miner, Harmon made the drive from Floyds's Knobs, Indiana, for the visit.
"They've done an amazing job out here. It's just beautiful," he said. "I think they're getting more recognition today than we did when we came back from Vietnam, Wounded Warrior associations and so forth. They didn't have that when we came home."
The Kentucky Veteran's Cemetery Central, which is just down the Dixie Highway from the Chaffee Gate entrance to Fort Knox, is operated by the Kentucky State Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for a total of four veteran resting places around the commonwealth, said Heater. The three others are located in Hopkinsville, near Fort Campbell, in Williamstown, north of Lexington, and in Ashland.
The Radcliff cemetery is also home to the Kentucky 9/11 Memorial, established by the Commonwealth of Kentucky House of Representatives in 2013. The monument consists of a 16-foot tall steel beam recovered from the North Tower of the World Trade Center that weighs more than three tons guarded by a wall of lime stones recovered from the Pentagon.