Military family members from around the country gathered at Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field on Saturday to honor their lost loved ones and participate in the eighth annual Wreaths for Warriors Walk.
“Today, we’re honoring the 468 soldiers (represented) at Warriors Walk,” W4WW co-founder Bruce Muncher said. “We have 51 (Warriors Walk) soldiers who are represented by 150 family members. (Fort Stewart) is the only installation in the country with a living memorial.”
Muncher said another ceremony was held Friday night to burn fragments of the original eastern redbud trees that once lined Warriors Walk. They were replaced by crape myrtles because the redbud trees couldn’t survive in South Georgia’s climate. Muncher said that in addition to laying a Christmas wreath at the base of each tree on Warriors Walk, family members this year could take a bag of ashes from the burned redbud trees to spread around the trees. This way, he said, they would “mesh” the old with the new.
“We have families that have been here every year for eight years,” he said. “They hold onto their loved one through his tree at Warriors Walk. … I think it helps to be around other families who’ve also suffered a loss. I’m not sure the grieving process every really ends.”
Muncher said there were 178 motorcycles at this year’s ceremony and, as always, the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 789 were among the volunteers supporting the event. Also present were Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and Civil Air Patrol cadets. He said America’s past and future were represented by the volunteers who distributed the wreaths or stood guard by each tree.
In his remarks, Task Force Marne Commander Brig. Gen. James Blackburn welcomed everyone and thanked Gold Star family members for attending.
“What makes the U.S. Army the greatest in history is its strength,” Blackburn said, noting that Warriors Walk was dedicated in 2003 as a living memorial to the Marne Division soldiers killed in action in Iraq. “The strength of the Army is its soldiers, and the strength of our soldiers is their families. …
“I am thankful this memorial will be here for generations to come. Family members are able to return to these oh-so-hallowed grounds and remember the contributions their loved ones made in defending the freedoms we enjoy.”
Following Blackburn’s remarks, instructions were given that Gold Star families first would be allowed to leave the stands and go to either side of Cottrell Field to retrieve a wreath for their soldier’s tree. When all the Gold Star families had taken wreaths, soldiers were invited to come down and take a wreath to the tree representing one of their fellow soldiers.
Gene and Linda Lamie of Homerville, Ga. were among the Gold Star families. For several years, Linda has led a group of volunteers in decorating every one of the trees with Christmas decorations. She said every year they’d ask for decoration donations. This year, she said, an Army wife received 8,000 decorations, which she donated. More than 100 soldiers, spouses and children help decorate the trees, she said.
“We’re here to represent our son, Sgt. Gene Lamie, (who was) killed in Iraq on July 6, 2007,” Linda Lamie said. “It was his second tour. He was with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Cavalry Regiment.
“This base is the best command in this country. No Army unit supports Gold Star families like the 3/7th Cav. and the Marne Division. Gene has been gone for over seven years, and they have not forgotten us one day.”
The Lamies said they’re actually a Gold Star and a wounded warrior family. Their other son, John, was wounded less than a year after his brother died. He also was on his second tour. They said their son-in-law, Mike Withers, is also a wounded warrior.
“We love supporting the soldiers who are serving now, those who are deployed right now,” Lamie said. “Being an Army wife or child is one of the toughest jobs in the world. W4WW is how we celebrate Christmas. On Christmas Day, we leave an empty chair at the table to represent our son.
“But our chair is not the only empty chair,” she continued. “The families of those soldiers who are deployed — they have an empty chair, too. They need our support.”