In 2015, volunteers began working together to place sponsored wreaths at graves of veterans in Bryan-College Station.
Fewer than 200 wreaths were collected that year.
Just two years later, the campaign raised enough funds to cover 1,200 graves in B-CS and expand to other counties in the Brazos Valley.
Volunteers canvassed area cemeteries Saturday as part of the annual Wreaths Across America campaign, gathering to set balsam Christmas wreaths at the gravestones of those who served.
"Our goal is to have a wreath for every veteran or first responder in the Brazos Valley," local Vietnam veteran and area Wreaths Across America organizer Tom Powell said. "We started in Bryan-College Station, but now we have over 2,100 military graves we've identified. Every time we go out, we identify even more veterans' graves." Tim and Katherine Crouse of Bryan rode in to the Aggie Field of Honor cemetery on Saturday morning on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, flanked by other members of the Brazos de Dios H.O.G. Chapter. The motorcyclists shut off their rumbling engines to take up various American and military flags, serving in stoic silence as color guard for the wreath-laying proceedings. College Station Mayor Karl Mooney addressed the crowd of volunteers about the branches of military service and those being honored.
"I have a whole bunch of military family," Katherine Crouse told The Eagle. "My mother served 20 years in the Navy, and my grandfather was in the Army 20 years."
Though the Crouses tended to the flags during the opening graveside ceremony, they later rode with their fellow H.O.G. Chapter members to one of 17 other cemeteries in the area to place wreaths.
"It's important to acknowledge these [service members] for what they did," Tim Crouse said.
Though the H.O.G. Chapter has been involved with Wreaths Across America in the past, this was the first year a local hobbyist club decided to give up their Saturday morning for the occasion. While some wreaths are laid out by family members of the deceased, many are laid out by volunteers and members of service organizations. None of the nine members of the Brazos Valley Model A Club members who showed up at the College Station cemetery in their antique vehicles had military family members buried locally, but each planned to take a wreath and travel to a selected cemetery to lay down the adornment for a stranger.
"Any way we can honor our veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice," said Sherry Hinnant of Washington County when asked why the group had volunteered this year.
Volunteers who place wreaths on graves of people they do not know are encouraged to research that person's name and service history, which club members said they plan to do.
"Any time you can remember somebody, it's important," said club member Bob Gilmore of College Station.
The club wants to volunteer again next year and hopes to dedicate even more energy into assisting the program.
According to Powell, Wreaths Across America started about 25 years ago with a man in Maine whose company had extra balsam wreaths he wanted to send to graves in Arlington National Cemetery. From there, the Wreaths Across America movement grew. Now cemeteries across the United States are garnished with the Christmas decoration.
"We do this because of veterans," Powell said. "I don't know a veteran that didn't give up at least one Christmas, and these veterans can't celebrate Christmas with their families anymore. ... It's the right thing to do. You can't honor our veterans enough for their sacrifice."