A display of 10 or more bright red poinsettias stood between a color guard and bleachers filled with families, soldiers and friends of fallen 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who were honored Saturday at the sixth annual Wreaths for Warriors Walk ceremony on Cottrell Field.
Gloomy skies added to the poignant occasion to memorialize 443 heroes, each represented by an eastern redbud tree. Fort Stewart Public Affairs Officer Kevin Larson said a record 40 families came this year to remember their loved ones. It was apparent too that a record number of soldiers Hort, 3rd ID deputy commanding general-rear told guests. “This is just one of many wreath-laying ceremonies that will be held around the country today. ... Although they have been taken from us, they will be remembered.”
He said the soldiers memorialized at Warriors Walk represent ages 18-51 years old and 49 states and U.S. territories. He called each tree a “living memorial” and reminded everyone they would be walking through “hallowed paths” as they walked between the rows of redbud trees.
Hort said it was important to think about the personal loss of the families of those honored during the Wreaths for Warriors Walk ceremony, in perspective with Friday morning’s tragedy at a Connecticut elementary school.
Following Hort’s remarks, family members were asked to take a wreath from one of the long rows of tables flanking each side of the field and place it on their soldier’s tree. As families moved from the stands to the trees, soldiers and friends were then asked to assist by ensuring a wreath was placed on every tree.
“No, I didn’t know him,” said Maj. Kristopher Howell after laying a wreath at the tree marking Sgt. Eugene Williams’ memorial. “I’ll remember his name now, though.”
Howell and his wife Julie kneeled by the wreath as he explained the significance of the wreath and the tree to his twin daughters, Alexandra and Elisabeth, 5.
Many of those assisting soldiers in placing wreaths by every tree were motorcycle riders. Terry Lynn Newsome, member of the Bomber Girls motorcycle club, said close to 140 bikes were parked along 6th Street for the day’s event.
“The U.S. Military Vets club pretty much organized this, along with the Bomber Girls,” Newsome said. “We’re an all-female motorcycle club that does everything we can to help the soldiers.”
After placing a wreath next to Spc. William Blount’s tree, a teary-eyed Staff Sgt. Ian McNab, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, snapped to attention and saluted the wreath and the memory of his soldier.
“We were out there when it happened,” he said, referring to the April 2010 day when Blount and 1st Lt. Robert Collins were killed in Iraq. “I was supposed to be on the same convoy with them.”
McNab, who just returned from a nine-month deployment, said he lost two more soldiers in Afghanistan. He said he comes to Warriors Walk often, especially during the annual wreath-laying ceremony.
After placing a wreath, Sgt. Briana Pickette wept as she kneeled at the base of Spc. Roberto A. Hernandez’ tree. The military police sergeant said Hernandez and another soldier, Spc. Jonathan C. O’Neill, had been stationed together since 2007 when an improvised explosive device killed her buddies June 2, 2009.
Wreaths for Warriors Walk Inc. is a nonprofit organization co-sponsored by Anthony Justi and Bruce Muncher. To look at the faces of the soldiers honored at Warriors Walk, go to http://www.stewart.army.mil/warrWalk/default.asp.