Holiday wreath retrieval
Volunteers gather holiday wreaths from the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery in Killeen, Texas, Jan. 15. The wreaths, placed Nov. 27 by volunteers with Wreaths for Vets, are retrieved after the holiday season and put in storage. The bows on the wreaths fade in the sun and are replaced annually, but the silk wreaths themselves can last for several years. (Photo Credit: Brandy Cruz, Fort Hood Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL

KILLEEN, Texas — Hundreds of people volunteered their time and energy, Jan. 15, to retrieve and store the more than 13,000 wreaths that were put out at the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery here during the holiday season.

“We do it with respect and honor for our veterans and our fallen,” Jean Shine, founder and president of Wreaths for Vets and the Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, said about the wreath retrieval. “This community and Central Texas, their heart just swells with pride (for the military). It’s peoples’ way of saying, ‘We’ll always remember.’”

Shine said the silk wreaths can be used for a few years before they wear out and have to be replaced. The wreaths are kept in 18-wheeler truck trailers, hung on poles specially designed for the trailer and the wreaths. Thanks to the non-profit organization’s donors, they were able to purchase a third trailer and additional wreaths this year to replace faded ones that were retired. The retired wreaths are then recycled.

Cyd West, treasurer of Wreaths for Vets, described the entire process – from wreath laying to retrieval – as respectful for the fallen troops and families at the cemetery.

“Every service member and family member in the cemetery deserves our honor and respect,” she added. “It is our patriotic duty to remember what they sacrificed for us.”

Shine said the wreath laying and retrieval fills her with pride because the volunteers who make it possible also bring their children and provide that example for them to follow.

“Most don’t even have a loved one buried there, but it’s their way to honor and show respect for the military, who provide us with the life we have. It’s out way of saying, ‘We’ll never forget that … ever,” Shine said. “Part of this is not just honoring and remembering, but we’re teaching the next generation what it’s all about and the meaning.”

Wreaths for Vets is a 501(c)3 non-profit with no paid employees. All donations go toward wreaths, bows, equipment, trailers, etc. To donate time or money, visit Correspondence and donations can also be sent to Wreaths for Vets, P.O. Box 2790, Harker Heights, TX 76548.

“I have been blessed to be around the military my entire life. I know what they do and what their families do and how much they give up for the citizens of our country. We must never forget that and we have to support them and we have to love them,” Shine said. “My family’s buried at Fort Sam Houston. Whenever I lay a wreath at our veterans’ cemetery, I lay it in their honor and in honor of veterans all across the world. Our veterans are what our country is built on. What I love about living here is everyone feels that way.”