Local garden club celebrates Veterans Day with ceremony
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Members of the Browning Community Garden Club and Killeen Garden Club gathered at the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker on Wednesday in honor of Veterans Day.
Marlene Gillman, president of the Killeen Garden Club, opened the brief ceremony with a quote by President Ronald Reagan that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
Gillman went on to share a brief history of the memorial and its connection to the Garden Clubs. The marker is located on the eastbound I-14 frontage road, just past the Clear Creek exit. There are four trees surrounding the Memorial marker in addition to the plants planted there by members of the different garden clubs.
The Blue Star Memorial Highway marker was installed at its location in 1992 as the result of a joint effort between the Killeen Garden Club, Browning Community Garden Club, the Kempner Garden Clubs Inc, Copperas Cove Garden Club, and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The Kempner Garden Clubs, Inc. and the Copperas Cove Garden Club have since dissolved, but the Browning Community Garden Club and the Killeen Garden Club still have members.
Over the years, members of the garden clubs have come out to the memorial to maintain the plants and sweep away any leaves. Every Veterans Day, the club members get together and hold a brief ceremony at the memorial site to recognize the veterans in the community and in the different clubs.
“It’s meaningful to all of us, it truly is. We’ve seen highs and lows, but this is always an up,” Gillman said about the ceremony. “This is always a high. It doesn’t matter how bad things are, we always show up for this thing. This is the one thing that we never, ever doubt.”
The Blue Star Memorial markers were started by the National Garden Club in 1944 with the planting of 8,000 Dogwood trees by the New Jersey Council of Garden Clubs as a living memorial to veterans of World War II. In 1945, the National Council of State Garden Clubs (NGC, Inc.) adopted this program and began a Blue Star Highway system that covers thousands of miles across the Continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. The Blue Star was adopted because it had become an icon in World War II and was seen on flags and banners in homes for sons and daughters away at war as well as in churches and businesses.
“After the war, the National Garden Clubs felt like we needed to do something to honor, not only the people who left in World War II but for all military people, and if you look at the sign it says, ‘A tribute to the Armed Forces that have defended the United States,’ all past, present and future, so it’s all encompassing,” Gillman said.
Gillman’s husband, Ret. Lt. Col. Jay Gillman, is a veteran himself. He served 22 years in the Army. Gillman said she and her husband chose to stay in the Fort Hood area after his retirement.
Other veterans recognized during Wednesday’s ceremony included Grace Passman, who served in the United States Marine Corps for two years.
Both Grace and her late husband, Stanford Passman, were members of the Killeen Garden Club. Stanford was also a veteran himself. He joined the Army at the age of 20 in 1961. He served two tours in Vietnam as a cook and as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. Additional duty assignments included Ft. Bragg, NC, Hakata Air Force Base, Japan; Fort Bliss, TX; assignments in Augsburg and Wurzburg, Germany; Fort Lee, VA; and Fort Hood, TX. He served as a Food Service Warrant Officer with the Marne Division at Wurzburg and would finish his military career as the Director of Food Service Installations for III Corps Fort Hood, retiring in 1983. Stanford died on February 3, 2019.
For Passman, the annual ceremony recognizing veterans at the Blue Star Memorial is so important.
“I think it’s important to know that there’s other organizations that honor veterans instead of just military connected,” Passman said.
Passman said it meant something that the National Garden Club would recognize veterans by putting up memorial markers.
She said that she and her husband had always thought of Veterans Day as a special day. Passman said she could even trace back her family’s history of service all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
The ceremony also featured a reading of the George S. Tilroe poem, “I am an American” by Martha Dye.
Gillman closed the ceremony with a quote from President John F. Kennedy, “Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, beat any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to ensure the survival and success of liberty.”
Following the ceremony, Passman handed out little paper cups of poppy seeds for participants to sprinkle around the memorial.