'Every freedom we enjoy was paid for'

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“Veterans know what it means to adapt and overcome.”

Yes, Sgt. David Applewhite told the crowd at the U.S. War Veterans Monument, Kilgore's shipment from Wreaths Across America didn't make it in time for this weekend's memorial.

The Vietnam War veteran was undaunted Saturday, however, standing alongside his brothers- and sisters-in-arms, their young successors in the Civil Air Patrol at the side, family members and friends in the crowd at Harris Street Park: Christmas is more than the tree, Wreaths Across America is more than a circle of greenery.

Crediting the national effort for stocking 1,400 plus memorial events across the country, Applewhite addressed the obvious (the Ace of Spades Squadron will still be laying wreaths on the graves of local veterans, albeit a little later than planned) and plowed on, honoring his late and fallen comrades.

With Kilgore's first Wreaths Across America remembrance relocated from Kilgore City Cemetery to the Harris Street monument, veterans laid wreaths to honor each branch of service – Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force – with a final circle of green in honor of Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action.

“As we place the symbolic wreaths here,” Applewhite said, “thousands of wreaths are being placed at Arlington (National Cemetery) and at cemeteries across the United States from Washington to California.

“They're all being placed to recognize veterans that have served and made sacrifices for freedom.”

Thousands of people across the United States participate in the memorial, said 1st Lt. Darrell R. Smith, Commander of the Gregg County Squadron.

Simultaneously placing wreaths on veterans' graves, “It's also to help teach future generations that freedom comes at a great cost,” Smith said.

Consider all the ways this country would be different without the sacrifices made by veterans in wars since its very beginning, said Lt. Col. Richard Jurkowski, USAF (Retired).

“Every freedom that we enjoy was paid for by these veterans,” he said, from the Revolutionary War forward to today's ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and around the world: “That's why honor them regularly.”

Take time to visit the graves of veterans in local cemeteries, Jurkowski reminded the crowd of about 40 people gathered at the veterans monument: Visit, if not to lay a wreath then to at least pause and remember their legacy.

“It is said that a person dies twice,” he said, “once when they take their last breath and again when their name is last spoken.

Stand before a service member's grave, “Take a moment, say that name out loud and thank the veteran or the freedom you have been given.”

Applewhite was grateful for wreaths donated by Sam's Club and nearby Wreaths Across America memorials at the last minute, enough to hold the symbolic ceremony at the Harris Street monument and to place on select graves Saturday.

Kilgore's shipment of wreaths is likely to arrive today or Thursday, Applewhite noted Tuesday, and will be placed by Ace of Spades Squadron cadets and other volunteers as soon as possible. Families are welcome to take the wreaths home, he noted, or leave them to be removed by volunteers after the New Year.

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