Four hundred sixty-eight ... The number of wreaths laid at the base of just as many trees on Warriors Walk in Fort Stewart, Georgia, on a beautiful, sunny December 12, 2015 Saturday afternoon.
Each of the 468 trees represents a Fallen Soldier lost battling terrorism during Operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn or Enduring Freedom. The wreaths, placed in conjunction with Wreaths Across America, are meant to remember and honor the Fallen and their Families.
This year, 139 Family Members representing 43 Soldiers were present for the ceremony hosted by Wreaths for Warriors Walk and the 3rd Infantry Division. Several hundred more volunteers from the Division and surrounding community gathered to place a wreath for the Families who could not attend.
The Tumanuvao family proudly stands in front of their fallen Soldier's white-blooming Crape Myrtle, December 12, 2015 with Staff Sgt. Sean Sandlin (second from left), 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team on Warriors Walk in Fort Stewart, Ga. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Uriah Walker, 3ID Public Affairs)
Many of the volunteers are not strangers to the Families whose husband, wife, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister is represented by the White-blooming Crape Myrtles.
Staff Sgt. Sean Sandlin, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team remembers every one of his Soldiers he lost in combat – 14 trees on Warriors Walk represent some of those men.br>
“It's an honor, it's a continuing tradition that we never forget our Soldiers,” said Sandlin. “What happened, when it happened; Legacies and traditions are something in the military that is extremely important.”
He continued saying, “I can always come out and see my boys, I can always see my brothers; they never disappear. It's a nice remembrance to see that people don't forget – you forget a Soldier, that's the worst thing in the world.”
Sandlin had the opportunity to meet the family of one of his boys, Sgt. Lui Tumanuvao, lost 7 Nov. 2007 in Iraq.
“Seeing the families and being able to give them pieces of how they (their Soldier) lived out there, not just letters or words or pictures it was, ‘I remember when he did this' or ‘I remember the funny story of this,' and that relates to them that they weren't alone,” he said. “It's an honor to them and it's an honor to me to be able to see them.”
Along with the wreath laying, each of the trees is also decorated, entirely by volunteers, the day before the ceremony. The tradition began in 2007 when Linda Lamie decorated her son, Sgt. Gene Lamie's tree.
“The next year a couple other Gold Star Mothers asked if I would decorate their trees,” said Lamie. “Then the next year I said, ‘Well I can't leave everybody else's tree,' so we started decorating all of the trees.”
Not only do the trees receive random decorations, but also many of the Families, units and individual Soldiers will either send or bring special ornaments to be placed at or on the Soldier's memorial tree.
“When I decorate their loved one's tree here at Warriors Walk I take a picture and send it to them,” she said.
By U.S. Army Sgt. Uriah Walker, 3ID Public Affairs
Provided through DVIDS
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