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Katy veterans remembered at Wreaths Across America

December 20, 2018

In three months, Noah Youngflesh of Cypress will be at Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. On Dec. 15, he joined others in placing wreaths on the graves of veterans at Magnolia Cemetery in Katy as part of the second annual Wreaths Across America ceremony.

He was part of a late-entry group of recruits who volunteered to be part of the ceremony organized through Katy American Legion Post and Auxiliary 164 and Katelyn Nitsche, who belongs to Way Out West Community Girl Scouts and is working on the wreath project to earn her Gold Award.

Coming from a long line of family members who’ve served in the military from an older brother and a cousin to grandfathers, Youngflesh said, “I’ve wanted to do this (serve in the military) since I was very young.”

Like Youngflesh, this was the first time Cole Nongbri, 9, participated in the Katy Wreaths Across America program. A member of Cub Scout Troop Pack 1182, he placed pennies on the graves of veterans as part of a longstanding tradition to indicate someone has paid their respects.

His father Deven Nongbri thought it was a good thing to do this, explained Cole. “It was very good,” he added.

“It’s great kids are getting to understand about all this,” said Marilyn Rawls of Pearland, as Cole laid a penny on the headstone of her son’s grave. “We need to remember the military and understand their sacrifice,” she added.

Her son, Dustin Marshall Rawls, was a Katy High School graduate who served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and lost his life in a 2007 traffic accident.

It was Rawls’ first time to participate in the wreath ceremony at Magnolia where Scouts, firefighters, families, National Charity League members and other volunteers placed more than 400 wreaths on the graves of veterans.

“He was a great guy and people still honor him,” said Rawls talking of her son, who was 25 when he died. “He would spare no expense to make someone laugh,” she added.

Marking her first time to attend the wreath-laying program, Denise Lesak said, “It’s beautiful that this many people are coming to support this program. They’re from all walks of life.”

“We had well over 300 volunteers attend this year’s event,” said Sharon Nitsche, Katelyn’s mom. “That is double compared to last year.”

She said months of planning led to the event being a “huge success.” Last year, wreaths were placed on 330 grave sites compared to 425 this year, plus seven ceremonial wreaths. Wreaths were presented to honor veterans in each of the six branches of the military and those who last known status was prisoner of war or missing in action.

Aggressive fundraising efforts meant wreath sponsorships reached more than 600, said Nitsche. Sponsored wreaths not used this month can be used next year.

“This event will continue to grow and the American Legion 164 has agree to continue this event after Katelyn graduates in 2020,” added Nitschke. “The mission of Wreaths Across America is to Remember, Honor and Teach.”

Katelyn Nitsche told the mid-Saturday morning crowd that Magnolia Cemetery was among more than 1,100 sites across the country where people were gathering to honor veterans.

“The United States of America was founded on ideals of freedom, justice and equality,” she said. “The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price. Laying here and in cemeteries across the nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we shall not forget you.”

After quoting presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, American Legion Post 164 Commander Harry Woodstrom said, “Today we show a united front of gratitude and respect across the United States as we remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom.”

Joseph Thomas, commander, American Legion District 22, of Pasadena, delivered the keynote address. The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute and “Taps.”

karen.zurawski@chron.com

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