The Hood County community will remember fallen veterans, honor those who serve, and teach the next generation the value of freedom through Acton Cemetery’s annual Wreaths Across America ceremony beginning at noon on Saturday, Dec. 16.
Since 2016 — in conjunction with National Wreaths Across America Day — Acton Cemetery, located at 3629 Fall Creek Hwy., has participated in the annual wreath-laying ceremony, along with 4,000 other locations across the United States, at sea, and abroad.
Hosted by the Elizabeth Crockett Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), the remembrance ceremony will allow those in attendance to place wreaths at the graves of the 495 veterans — representing all branches of the military — who are buried at the historic cemetery founded in the early 1800s.
Respected military veterans and prominent citizens will direct the always-moving observance, including: retired Marine, senior Marine instructor at Granbury High School MCJROTC, and master of ceremonies Lt. Col. Scott Casey; retired Marine and keynote speaker Lt. Col. Mitch Bell; Vietnam War veteran and chaplain John Bell; soloist Errol Flannery; bagpiper Dr. John Taber; and bugler Arthur Nutt.
The Granbury High School JROTC will present the ceremonial wreaths and the Brazos Valley Chapter Color Guard, Sons of the American Revolution, will post colors.
Casey served with the 11th and 12th Marines from 1992 to 1995. He participated in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia and the Unit Deployment Program in Okinawa, Japan.
He served as a commanding officer during Operation Tandem Thrust in Australia and with the Third Marine Division in Kaneohe, Hawaii, where he deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Following several additional assignments, Casey retired from the Marine Corps in May 2012, to accept his current position as senior marine instructor with the Granbury High School MCJROTC. In addition, Casey serves as an adjunct professor for the Marine Corps Command and Staff College Distance Education Program.
Bell joined the Marine Corps in 1986 and was winged a Naval Aviator in January 1991. He flew the KC-130 at Cherry Point, North Carolina; Okinawa, Japan; and Fort Worth. In 1998, he left active duty and was hired by American Airlines but continued his military career as a reservist.
He served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006, and followed this assignment with two tours in Afghanistan, 2008 and 2009. Bell currently flies the Boeing 787 Dreamliner internationally and volunteers with numerous veterans’ support organizations.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
According to the Wreaths Across America news release, it has been said you are not forgotten as long as your name is still spoken. Many of the fallen veterans resting at Acton Cemetery are long deceased and have no family to remember them or to honor their service to America. Volunteers will say aloud each of their names as wreaths are placed at their gravesites ensuring they are not forgotten.
“It is an immeasurable honor to participate in Wreaths Across America,” Kathy Hanlon, location coordinator for Wreaths Across America, Acton Cemetery, said in an email to the HCN. “Paying homage to a fallen veteran by placing a wreath — a symbolic gift of thanks and appreciation for their service — on their grave is a cherished privilege, and saying a deceased veteran’s name one more time to ensure they are not forgotten is a deeply moving experience. But even more heartwarming is the opportunity to acknowledge living veterans and to express that we in our community are forever grateful for the freedoms afforded to us by the bloodshed of our nation’s heroes.”
Granbury resident Mike Musselman served as a Marine Corps infantryman and officer for 31 years, serving in three deployments to Iraq and one year-long deployment to Afghanistan. During his time in service, he explained that he lost 48 friends to the wars.
“I knew more than just their names," he said. "I knew their moms, their dads, their goals, their lives, their expectations, their wives, their future children, everything else.”
He added that the number of friends he lost since being discharged from the Marines in 2015 has now increased to 60, as many of them took their lives following the effects of the war.
"Unfortunately, a lot of these guys, the war didn't kill them,” Musselman said. “They come back, and eventually death catches up to them, and they take their lives. They died back then. We lost them back in the war, but then they came here and just held on as long as they could.”
Lance Corporal (LCpl) Luke Scott passed away on Dec. 3, 2010. Although 13 years has passed since his death, Musselman said he continues to call Scott’s mother every year, and they both laugh and cry together.
"Luke's been gone 13 years, and the pain that you can still hear in the mother's voice ...,” he said, trailing off.
Major Kevin Nave passed away on March 26, 2003 — the same day his daughter turned 5.
"They were going to do a video conference and he was going to wish her a happy birthday, and then she got the bad news that her father had died,” Musselman said. “The sad thing is, his daughter will never know how great a man he was.”
Major Megan McClung died on Dec. 6, 2006. As a public affairs officer, Musselman said she always wanted to leave her office to see combat.
"Her job kept her in an office, writing and reporting on the war, never seeing it,” he explained. “I told her all the time, ‘There's nothing beautiful about it. There's nothing to see. Cherish your job.' I had left the country because my rotation was up and probably two weeks later, I get a phone call and they told me that Megan had died in a roadside bomb. She had finally convinced somebody to take her out on a tour, to see outside the walls that she lived, and it cost her her life.”
Musselman said by saying a service member’s name out loud, they will never be forgotten.
“When a serviceman dies, he gives his life, but we fail to realize, they’ve given up two lives: the life that they’re living, and the life that they would’ve lived,” he said. “To have met these people, to have been in their company, it was very profound. Profound enough, where it still affects me today, 20 years later, in most cases. If we model our lives off those that we knew and make our lives different and live in their honor, then we’re making a difference. If you say their name, then they’re never forgotten. They’re never gone.”
The public is invited to attend the free, patriotic event where all veterans will be honored for their service and remembered for their sacrifices made for our freedom. Limited seating will be available.