News: Marine Division families, friends remember their fallen
Story by Sgt. Uriah Walker
FORT STEWART, Ga. -- Each December since 2007, there has been a wreath laying ceremony at Fort Stewart's Warriors Walk. During the ceremony, family members, friends and comrades of fallen 3rd Infantry Division soldiers gather to remember those that will not be here for the holidays.
This year's ceremony was held with the imminent threat of rain in the sky, but warmth in the hearts of the more than 300 soldiers, family members and friends that paid homage to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, Dec. 10.
This year, as has been done in the past, a wreath was placed at the base of each of the 439 Eastern Redbud trees. Each tree is a living memorial dedicated to the memory of a 3rd Inf. Div. soldier who lost their life while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.
"There are 104 confirmed family members here this year," said Bruce Muncher, Wreaths for Warriors Walk co-founder. "We wanted something, as a whole, to bring as many family members as we could back and say, 'Your loved ones aren't forgotten.'"
In the absence of a family member, a wreath was placed instead, by one of several supporters from the community, whether it was a member of the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Cadet, or a soldier currently assigned to 3rd Inf. Div. Walking among the Eastern Redbud trees on this chilly, overcast Saturday afternoon, there were wreaths being laid, trees being decorated, smiles, tears, and salutes to lost comrades-in-arms.
For an old friend of fallen soldier Staff Sgt. William J. Brooks, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division who was killed in Iraq in 2005, this was the first ceremony he had attended. He talked about how he and Brooks had attended Advanced Individual Training together and how much he had learned from his friend.
The family of Sgt. Peter Neesley, who was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, when he died in Baghdad on Christmas Day 2007, made the trip from Michigan to lay a wreath and decorate his tree. His sister, mother and nephew each brought with them a personal item to place either on, or at the foot of, his tree.
Through all of the tears and memories of the day, there were still smiles, a few laughs, and a lot of hugs as family and friends who share a common loss came together to remember the Soldiers of the 3rd Inf. Div. who gave their lives fighting against the ongoing war on terror.
"Tomorrow's not promised, so don't waste another minute," said Col. Roger L. Cloutier, deputy commanding general for maneuver, Third Infantry Division.