KILLEEN — In preparation for the holiday season, nearly 10,000 wreaths were hand-placed during the annual Wreath Laying Ceremony at Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery Saturday.
Thousands of local community members gathered together to lay a wreath on every single headstone inside the cemetery. The wreaths were donated by Friends of Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery.
Patrick Reed Jr., son of Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Reed and Maria Reed, was a volunteer at the ceremony.
“Since my father is an active duty service member, it personally means a lot to me to help others,” Reed, a 15-year-old Copperas Cove Army JROTC cadet, said about his father, who is currently deployed overseas.
Reed, who said he misses his dad, understands the hardships of family separation during the holidays.
“It makes me feel good because I’m helping the community and fellow service members who don’t have families,” Reed explained.
Community support is significant to the families of those who are buried at the cemetery.
“It’s such a huge blessing and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, the fact that all of this is done on donations and volunteers,” Katrina Gommels said about the ceremony.
Gommels, 27, lost her father James Gommels, in 2013 from a stroke. She brought her daughter, Summer Cortez, to the cemetery to help.
“It gives her a chance to feel close to him,” Gommels said about her 5-year-old daughter, as she held back tears. “This is almost harder for me, so it’s more for her.”
This year’s Wreath Laying Ceremony is the first time Summer has had the opportunity to visit with her grandfather. Gommels said that her father retired from Fort Hood after more than 30 years in the Army.
During the ceremony, Gommels placed three pennies on her father’s headstone, one for her daughter, mother and herself.
“The pennies mean that you came to visit,” she said. “There are different coins that mean different things.”
Gommels said as a family member of a veteran who is buried at the cemetery, she is grateful to the community for their support.
“I do love the sense of community,” Gommels said. “I love that so many of the people that were here don’t even know these people, but they came out. There’s got to be gravestones out here that have not had visitors, except for this time of the year, but at least once or twice a year, these people are remembered.”