They crowded the room, stripping and snipping and placing red, white and blue -- well, purple -- blossoms into pails of water.
An anonymous gift of 3,000 flowers to honor Chattanooga's fallen veterans gave city residents another opportunity Wednesday to show support for the friends and family of five slain service members.
The donor gave the blooms to city of Chattanooga, which asked the United Way of Greater Chattanooga to assemble volunteers to prepare the flowers for Staff Sgt. David Wyatt's funeral.
Wyatt was one of five military service members killed by a gunman last week at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway.
The donor, from New York, gave the flowers in colors symbolizing the red, white and blue of the American flag, on behalf of the staff and residents at the Col. C. David Merkel, MD Veterans' Residence program in Saranac Lake, N.Y. The center treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as well as earlier conflicts, who have post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions.
On Wednesday, more than 40 men, women and children met at the Chattanooga General Services building, so many that not all could squeeze into the room.
"My heart is broken," said Barbara Ware, a military veteran who served in Desert Storm.
Several people carried in large white buckets of water. Volunteer Amanda Browning poured in plant food. She celebrated her 29th birthday Wednesday at the service center because she wanted to contribute to the community, she said.
Eighty-seven-year-old Bea Hicks came to the center with her garden gloves and tennis hat to work. She clipped and dethorned the roses.
"As old as I am, I thought this was something that I could do," she said. "I love those people who made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our freedom and I wanted to help."
More volunteers will distribute the flowers after the burial service at the Chattanooga National Cemetery on Bailey Avenue. The burial will follow Wyatt's funeral, set for 1 p.m. Friday at Hixson United Methodist Church at 531 Old Hixson Pike.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfree press.com or 757-6431.