KILLEEN — Tears carried with them memories of treasured moments and the dreams that never came to pass during a touching memorial service in honor of those who lost their lives at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009.
Members of the greater Fort Hood community came together Tuesday at the city of Killeen’s memorial on WS Young Drive to honor the memories of the Soldiers, a retiree and an unborn baby who tragically died 10 years ago, as well as the more than 30 others who were wounded.
“It just warms my heart to see how much support and love we have, and (that) our fallen has not been forgotten,” Shoua Her, wife of Pfc. Kham Xiong, said following the ceremony.
Hundreds gathered as loved ones and the greater Fort Hood community paid tribute to the fallen, sharing messages, poems, favorite scriptures or quotes from favorite books. Timothy Hancock, who served as the city of Killeen’s mayor during the tragedy, said the memorial ceremony was for the families … to assure them the sacrifices their loved ones made are not forgotten.
“We wanted you to know that we would not forget and we hope that you understand that we have not forgotten,” Hancock told the crowd.
Coming to Texas from Wisconsin, Theresa Rief, cousin of Staff Sgt. Amy Krueger, read a poem titled “Amy’s Poem,” which was written by her aunt, through Amy’s eyes.
“Always remember, my dear family and friends, you will see me again, please be assured,” Rief said. “Our souls will mingle, our voices will be heard. It’s never goodbye, it’s see you later.”
Amy’s mother, Jerilyn Krueger, also attended the ceremony, expressing her gratitude to the community for remembering and caring for them. She also shared how the love she has for her daughter has kept her strong.
“Thank you for always watching over us, because I know you are and I will see you again,” Krueger said to her daughter.
Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, III Corps deputy commander, shared that it is always difficult to find the words to describe the bravery and character Soldiers exhibit when they die serving their nation.
“When I think about these victims here and their families, I think about how to pay homage to them and I’m confronted with the same challenge,” Efflandt said. “I lack the interpersonal skills and the rhetorical ability to do dignity to the sacrifices and the character of the people who were killed that day by a terrorist.”
Yarime Velez, sister-in-law of Pfc. Francheska Velez, read a message from Francheska’s parents during the ceremony, sharing their emotions of losing a child.
“A young heart stopped beating, a beautiful soul laid to rest. God broke our hearts to prove, he only takes the best,” Yarime said. “The earth lost a Soldier, but heaven gained a warrior.”
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra said while the memorial, which was dedicated in 2016, represents those who lost their lives, it is also a tribute to who and what they represented – freedom.
“They represented those that are willing to serve our nation in one way or another, so that communities like ours can enjoy the freedoms that we live by,” Segarra said. “It is a testament to their courage, that no matter what others may try to do, they will never take away the freedoms that are represented in communities like ours and all over this great country.”
The Fort Hood Memorial Pavilion, which sits to the left of the Killeen Civic Center, is a reminder of the lives the victims of the shooting lived. The 13 pillars include personal information about each person, and on top, personal items from each person, memorialized forever in bronze.
Efflandt said the dignity and decorum that went into the planning of the memorial and ceremony genuinely reflects the amount of caring the community has for its Soldiers.
“I was moved by this ceremony in a lot of ways. That’s about the perfect embodiment of Central Texas and what makes this a special place. It was the community working with Soldiers from around the country to prepare the Army to go forth and defend. Working together as one team, seamlessly committed to what was right. As you looked at the memorial service today, it was the same thing,” Efflandt said. “They say Fort Hood is the Great Place. I firmly believe that it’s a great place because it’s nestled in a great community. You can’t be here for more than 10 minutes without realizing the community loves its Soldiers and because of that, the Soldiers love this community. I think this memorial service epitomizes that relationship, both in the tragedy and in the remembrance.”