FORT HOOD, Texas -- Parents, spouses and children reverently approached the 6-foot-tall granite memorial Friday, some kneeling and wiping away tears as they gently touched a name etched on the stone -- each belonging to one of the 13 people killed in the Fort Hood shooting rampage a year ago.
Many families of the 12 soldiers and one civilian who died Nov. 5, 2009, met for the first time at the anniversary memorial, hugging and weeping together.
"I wanted to come down here and see the place where she died and get a better understanding of what happened, and I think that's helped," said Philip Warman, of Havre De Grace, Md., who had never before been to the Texas Army post where his wife, Lt. Col. Juanita Warman, was killed as she prepared for deployment to Iraq.
Leila Hunt Willingham, of McKinney, called the memorial a good way to honor her brother and others who lost their lives that day.
"He was incredibly selfless from the moment he was born. He was always giving gifts, and obviously he gave the ultimate gift last year," Hunt Willingham said, her eyes welling with tears.
Later Friday, more than 1,000 soldiers, victims' families and others gathered for a memorial ceremony that included a moment of silence and the playing of taps.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told the crowd that during the past year, he visited two units that each had lost several soldiers in the shootings before they deployed. He said the units were an inspiration -- as were soldiers such as Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler, who nearly died after being shot four times but learned to walk again and continues physical therapy.
Earlier Friday, Casey and Army Secretary John McHugh presented awards to more than 50 soldiers and civilians whose actions "went above and beyond the call of duty." Capt. John Gaffaney, who was fatally shot after he threw a chair at the gunman, received an award posthumously.
The crowd rose to its feet and applauded when medals were presented to Officer Kim Munley and Sgt. Mark Todd, the two civilian Fort Hood police officers who engaged in a gunbattle with the shooter, eventually wounding him. Munley was wounded by the gunman.
"It's not about us. It's about the families," Todd said after the ceremony, adding that he thinks about the shooting every day.
"It's a chapter in this Army that no matter how many tears may fall will never, ever be washed away and will be part of our history forever," McHugh said.