Thousands of Christmas wreaths put on soldiers' headstones - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Thousands of Christmas wreaths put on soldiers' headstones in Killeen

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Jean Shine comes from a military family.  In 2006 she decided to get Christmas wreaths for the headstones at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.

There were only about 400 at the time.

"So I got in a truck and went to Austin and found...400 wreaths!  And they all matched and we started it but the next year it was 900 and we knew we needed to start a foundation," Shine said.

So "Friends of the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery" was born.

Every year since, people from all over have been coming to place wreaths on the headstones the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

"Our military have given so much so that we can be free.  So we can...go shopping, so we can enjoy Christmas, so we can have a Thanksgiving.  And give us this wonderful life that we have," Shine said.

By the end of December, there will be around 4,000 military men and women buried at the cemetery.

SFC Pereria has been in the service for 20 years but he's only been at Ft. Hood for a few months so he doesn't know anyone buried on the grounds.  That didn't stop him from coming to help.

"When I leave a wreath for one of the service members it just reminds me of my friends that I lost in Afghanistan and Iraq.  So it is moving but at the same time it's a sense of relief for them and their families," Pereria said.

For those who do have loved ones buried there it was an emotional experience for the entire family.

Like Maria Steward.  She and her father visited the cemetery many times...now she's visiting him.

"He knew service, he respected it...but family was always first," Steward said.

She says it helps her kids to understand what Christmas is really about.

"The families I believe have the hardest time, especially during the holidays when their loved ones can't be there.  Their dad actually comes back from Korea, from his tour over there the 12th," Steward said.

Rebecca Carver's dad Michael spent 20 years in the army.

He died in 2009 right after his 50th birthday.

Her family has fond memories of him.

"He was a Cowboys fan!  The biggest Cowboys fan," a family member said.

Rebecca sums up the occasion pretty well.

"It's emotional because it's the holidays and the holidays are the hardest part but just to see all the people and all the volunteers and the people that give their time to come out here and it's people they don't even know.  And every year I've watched more and more people, you know, we went from 500 people to thousands of people and its...it's beautiful," Carver said.



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