More than 150 motorcyclists joined 170 family members of Fort Stewart’s fallen heroes Saturday afternoon at Cottrell Field.
They were joined by hundreds of more soldiers and other members of the community for the seventh annual Wreaths for Warriors Walk. A Christmas wreath was placed by each of the eastern redbud trees that represent the 466 Marne Division heroes memorialized at Warriors Walk.
The motorcyclists represented more than eight local motorcycle clubs, while the family members represented 44 families of 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“We’ve been doing this all seven years now,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff “Buckeye” Logan, 878th Engineer Battalion, Georgia Army National Guard in Augusta, who helped organize the motorcycle clubs. “The first year, we only had 20 motorcycles. This year we have over 150 ... (We do this because) these guys made the ultimate sacrifice for us. The least we can do is come out here and put a wreath on their tree ... We do it rain or shine.”
It was raining Saturday morning, but that didn’t hold back the crowds. Attendees not under the covered shelter huddled under large umbrellas or wore hooded rain jackets.
“All the guys that I had who weren’t working today took part in the ride here,” U.S. Military Veterans Association President Dan “Ah” Webster said. “This is extremely important to our club (based in Surrency). We’re all veterans.”
Wreaths for Warriors Walk Inc. co-founder Bruce Muncher said the 170 family members attending this year’s ceremony represent the largest group of family members attending since the first ceremony in 2006. He said he was amazed that some family members come every year, some coming from as far as Colorado.
“(Family members) gain strength from each other,” said Muncher, explaining a special Facebook account was open to just the Gold Star family members. “You and I don’t know what they’re going through, but they know what other family members who’ve lost a loved one are going through ... This year, we’re publishing a book on Warriors Walk that includes family pictures and things their soldiers used to say. We keep growing (at Wreaths for Warriors Walk Inc.). We look for what we can change, what we can add.”
The ceremony began with a moment of silence, followed by the National Anthem, an invocation and reading of a poem about Warriors Walk. The guest speaker, Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd ID and Stewart-Hunter, said it was his privilege to place a wreath by the tree of 3rd ID Medal of Honor winner Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith.
The division command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson placed a wreath by the tree of Sgt. 1st Class Lonnie Parson. Brig. Gen. Paul Jones, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-support, placed a wreath for Sgt. Brandon Hocking. Col. John Thompson, 3rd ID chief of staff, placed a wreath for Capt. Sara Knutson.
“We come every year,” said Debbie Farr, mother of Staff Sgt. Chad Lake, who was a scout with the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment when he was killed in action in February 2005. The Farrs came from Ocala, Fla., to honor their son’s memory.
Debbie and her husband, Worthy Farr, were accompanied by Nick Pumfrey, his wife, Sabra, and their 8-year-old son, Lake. Pumfrey’s said his wife was pregnant when he learned his best friend had been killed. She suggested they name their son Chad, but he told her that soldiers rarely call each other by their first name. He said Lake understands the story behind his name and is proud to bear it. On Saturday, he took time to look at the mementos scattered around Staff Sgt. Lake’s tree.
“I’ve come here every year,” said Pumfrey, who is no longer in the Army but lives nearby. “We loved Chad ... I served with him the first two deployments to Iraq, but I had stayed behind for that one. I was here when I found out.”
The Farrs and Pumfreys posed by Lake’s tree and wreath with their military escort, Sgt. 1st Class John Winebrenner, who admitted he did not know Lake and had not served with him. He said he was asked by a former unit member to be there for the family and friends.
Farther down the row of trees, four children collected dandelion flowers and placed them in a circle around the tree representing Blackhawk pilot Capt. James Adamouski. A tall lieutenant colonel watched them; he told his children they needed to go before it started raining again.
Lt. Col. Geoff Van Epps, commander of the 1-3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, said he not only knew Adamouski, they also grew up together.
“I was stationed at Fort Bragg, and he was stationed at Hunter (Army Airfield),” Epps said. “We graduated from the same high school and the same class at (the U.S. Military Academy) at West Point.”
He said their sisters and his sister-in-law also attended the same school, Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, Va. He and Adamouski both came from military families.
“He was already deployed,” Epps said. “We were at Bragg waiting for aircraft so we could deploy when we heard his helicopter had gone down ... I was a company commander at that time. I had come into my office to do some paperwork. They first called my wife who called me. I just fell down on the floor and cried. That was 10 years ago this past April.”
Epps said now that he’s stationed at Fort Stewart, he visits Warriors Walk quite often and thinks about his friend.
“We come over here regularly to make sure his memory stays strong,” he said. “I hope his family takes comfort in knowing I’m close by to visit their son’s tree (for occasions like this).