Killeen: Hundreds honor fallen during Memorial Day Ceremony
Cities across the nation are putting on Memorial Day ceremonies, opening with the presentation of the colors and the national anthem.
But there was something unique about Monday morning’s gathering at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetary in Killeen.
It included words straight from a World War II battlefield, written by a veteran who recently passed away.
Hundreds filled the cemetery to honor service members who passed away, especially in the line of duty.
On the way to the ceremony with the U.S. flag in tow, recently retired Sergeant First Class Tamayo is using a two-hour trek to reflect on friends he lost while serving in Iraq.
"The flag represents what we stand for- what we fought for," he says.
"They’re not forgotten; we still got their backs. Thanks for all the sacrifices that they've done," adds Tamayo.
Medic, glider pilot and bronze star recipient Wayne Andrus saw those sacrifices firsthand while serving in the army during WWII.
He passed away in April at the age of 97 and is buried at the cemetery, but he left a sense of pride and purpose with his daughters.
"We heard about all the war stores; we almost relived the war stories,” says Andrus’s daughter Debbie Hakkesteeg.
“I can imagine all the other guys that were there that didn't get to tell their stories."
Major General Paul Calvert read a letter written by Andrus who served in major battles like the Battle of the Bulge during the war. It was sent to his mother while he was in Germany.
One part reads:
“When we set sail from Portsmouth, England for the invasion we landed on the coast on Utah Beach about ten miles from Sainte-Mère Église, which is close to Carentan. I rode ashore with some tanks and their ammunition trucks. We were ambushed the first night and lost two men. Then we rode and fought our way to meet the paratroopers in their drop zone. The third or fourth day we crossed the Merderet River (at La Fière Bridge) (France) for which we received the Presidential Citation.”
Following the reading of the letter, Texas veterans organizations laid wreaths to remember Andrus’s comrades and others lost on the battlefield.
"I'm very seldom speechless but I am today,” says his other daughter Rebecca Dowdy.
“We're just so grateful that Dad instilled in us those things that carried him through the military- through difficult times. It was not only perseverance but the joy of living."
And with that joy comes the privilege their dad carried for many years- sharing the stories of those who never got the chance to tell them.