An overcast day with an occasional cool breeze was fitting weather for the fifth annual Wreaths for Warriors Walk ceremony Saturday at Fort Stewart’s Quick Track and Cottrell Field.
Hundreds of family members and friends of fallen 3rd Infantry Division soldiers came from around the country to participate in the somber event by laying a Christmas wreath at the foot of each of the 439 eastern redbud trees that serve as a memorial to the Fort Stewart community’s fallen heroes.
“This is a labor of love for our community,” explained Col. Roger Cloutier, 3rd ID deputy commander for maneuvers and guest speaker for the event. “This is our place to honor those who gave all. Our nation has stood in awe as our ‘Dog Face Soldiers’ deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — it’s what makes the 3rd ID special.”
Cloutier’s remarks followed a special moment of silence in memory of the fallen, then the national anthem, an invocation and a poem by Reece Bishop called “Another Tree Planted.”
“This is my first time speaking at (Wreaths for Warriors Walk), but I’ve participated in the ceremony twice before,” Cloutier later said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to just remember our fallen soldiers and honor the sacrifices made by their families.”
The former commander of the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, Cloutier has been with the 3rd ID since 2004. He said he has seven soldiers remembered on Warriors Walk from his former battalion and 107 from his former brigade.
Opposite of Quick Track, the O’Neill family stood silently around the redbud tree honoring their son, Spc. Jonathan C. O’Neill, who was killed in Iraq on June 15, 2009. They traveled from Watertown, Tenn., to take part in the annual ceremony.
“We’ve come here every year,” explained Robert O’Neill, whose eyes welled up with tears after he laid the Christmas wreath at his son’s memorial, making it difficult for him to speak. “We have a memorial garden for our son at home, but (Warriors Walk) is special to us.”
“It’s almost like this is his resting place,” Robert’s wife, Jackie, interjected. “Coming here has become a family tradition at Christmas.”