Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Sooby.
First Sgt. Russell Powell.
Sgt. 1st Class Harvey Laster.
These are but a few of the names chiseled on grave markers at the Fort Riley Post Cemetery.
As the clock struck 11 a.m. Dec. 14, the community gathered to remember these veterans and a host of others interred at Fort Riley during a Wreaths Across America ceremony.
Wreaths Across America is a national organization with the mission of remembering fallen heroes, honoring those who serve and teaching children about the cost of freedom, according to its website.
Every year, the organization fulfills its mission by coordinating synchronized wreath-laying ceremonies across the country and around the world.
Fort Riley joined more than 750 locations worldwide for the annual event, which began in 1992 in Arlington, Va.
“Today, as we join with thousands of others in unison as we place a green wreath with a red ribbon on the headstones of these service members, we will remember, honor, but also teach other generations about those who fought for this country, and those who gave their lives to protect its citizens and its ideals,” said Brig. Christopher Ghika, 1st Infantry Division deputy commanding general for readiness. “The campaigns may come and go, just as time itself comes and goes. But there is an enduring need, indeed, I would call it a responsibility and a duty laid on all of us to remember and honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in war.”
Ghika spoke of Pvt. George Ellison and Pvt. Henry Gunter, the last British and American Soldiers to be killed during World War I, just before the armistice went into effect.
“George Ellison and Henry Gunter were the last of over 37 million civil and military fatalities worldwide resulting from that war – 37 million individuals,” he said. “We did not know Pvt. Ellison and Pvt. Gunter, but we know now that WWI was not the war to end all wars. We know now that freedom from tyranny and oppression comes at a heavy price, and military conflict is often the undesired price that we pay for our liberty.”
During the ceremony, seven wreaths were presented for each branch of service and for POW/MIA Soldiers.
The event was hosted by the 4th District Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the 4th District VFW, with support from the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley.
Linda Vann-Owens, master of ceremony and president, 4th District Ladies Auxiliary, urged attendees to visit the gravesites and research the lives behind the names, so the veterans might become more than a statistic.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Pantano.
Master Sgt. Charles Brown.
Lt. Col. Raymond Meis.
Each name represents more than a number, Vann-Owens said. Each name represents a storied legacy of service.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, community members took part in the event by placing wreaths at the markers of about 400 veterans interred at the Fort Riley Post Cemetery.
“My father is a World War II veteran. He served in the Navy. And I have a lot of other family members who served in the U.S. military,” said Carol Ann Holcomb, Manhattan, who volunteered to help set up wreaths. “I feel a real attachment to those who devoted their lives to defending this country and who continue to champion our efforts toward freedom and democracy ... I feel a lot of satisfaction in being able to honor those who’ve served so well to defend our country.”
“As we place these wreaths on the headstones of a departed service member, we should also remember the words we hold so dear in this 1st Inf. Div.,” Ghika concluded. “No mission too difficult. No sacrifice too great. Duty First.”
For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit http://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/.
By Julie Fiedler
1st Inf. Div. Post
PHOTO: A Wreaths Across America ceremony is conducted Dec. 14 at the Fort Riley Post Cemetery. Wreaths Across America’s annual wreath-laying ceremony helps fulfill its mission to remember fallen heroes, honor those who serve and teach children about the cost of freedom. (Julie Fiedler | POST)