In a sense, not much has changed in the decade since Bruce Muncher and retired Army Lt. Col. Tony Justi founded Wreathes 4 Warriors Walk, which will hold its 10th annual wreath laying at noon Saturday on Fort Stewart.
It’s still a simple, somber and moving ceremony.
It’s still largely volunteers and family members who gather on Cottrell Field at Warriors Walk to honor those who fought and died in battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But some things have changed.
In 2007, the first year W4WW laid wreaths, there were 376 eastern redbud trees, one each for every 3rd Infantry Division soldier killed fighting the war.
There are 488 white crepe myrtles there now, the crepe myrtle better suited to Georgia’s climate, but still one tree each for every 3rd ID soldier whose life was cut short by war. And at Christmas, one wreath each for every 3rd ID soldier whose life is symbolized by the trees.
It’s the least we can do, Muncher said.
"As an American, it’s something I feel I
need to do," said Muncher, the son of a soldier who worked as a civilian on Fort Stewart for more than 30 years. "Tony feels the same way."
Muncher estimates more than 130 family members from around the U.S. will make the trip this year to Warriors Walk for the ceremony. They travel here at their own expense and will be fed lunch donated by supporters of Wreaths 4 Warriors Walk, a nonprofit that depends on donations to buy the wreaths used in the ceremony.
The wreaths, from the Worcester Wreath Company in Maine, cost $15 each. Worcester is the same company that makes wreaths used in the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
That’s where Justi got the idea for Wreathes 4 Warriors Walk, Muncher said. They first discussed it in November, 2006, then formed a nonprofit and cut through Fort Stewart red tape to make it happen in 2007.
"It’s what this country always does," Muncher said. "We support and we help. And our main objective is always to show the families of the fallen that their loved ones are not forgotten. That’s the biggest thing. The holidays are always most difficult for all of us to get through when we think of our losses and who’s passed on during the year. We just don’t need to forget, that’s the main thing."
The public is invited to attend and participate in Saturday’s ceremony, which remains much as it was during that first wreath laying in 2007, though Muncher said there were thoughts of inviting nationally known music stars to sing the national anthem.
But that, he said, would’ve turned Wreaths 4 Warriors Walk’s anual ceremony into something else.
"Then you turn it into a circus, so we decided not to do that." Muncher said. "We want people there for the families and for the wreath laying, not just to see whoever the big name was that we had come sing the anthem. We want everyone that wants to have that chance to lay a wreath."