Wreaths of evergreen honor sacrifices, all across America
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Dec 17, 2012, 15:37
photo by Caitlin Davis The veterans at City Point National Cemetery are gone but not forgotten.
Among the graves of fallen service members at City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell lay wreaths, topped with a red bow. They were placed there during a wreath laying ceremony on Saturday that took place underneath gray skies and in the midst of almost 100 motorcycles.
“Today we are gathered at the memorial site, and in sites like this across the nation, to remember that we are one nation with one flag living in the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Col. Robert Harney, Commandant of the Army Logistics University at Fort Lee, said at the sombre event. “We are proud to be Americans who live in a society made of many people, many races, from many walks of life.”
The ceremony in Hopewell was part of the “Wreaths Across America” program which Morrill Worcester began in 1992. At the end of the holiday season, his Maine based Worcester Wreath Company found it had a large number of leftover wreaths. Worcester decided to take the wreaths to the graves at Arlington National Cemetery, sparking an annual tradition that has continued ever since. When a picture of the wreaths at the gravesites, enveloped in snow, made it’s way to the Internet in 2005 and got nationwide attention, his tradition spread across the country.
“The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality and our nation stands as a beacon of liberty and freedom to the rest of the world,” Harney said, as Hopewell participated in the tradition. “And we thank those who gave their lives to keep us free. Lest we never forget.”
Standing in the crowd on Saturday afternoon were members of regional motorcycle groups, including Rolling Thunder and the American Legion Riders of Post 146. The crowd was also composed of veterans, current service members and family and friends from the surrounding communities who wanted to pay tribute to the fallen and give them a piece of the holiday season.
“This is the Christmas they never had,” Jean Mull, with Valor’s Rest, said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
Valor’s Rest, along with Hopewell American Legion Memorial Post 146, sponsored the event that afternoon. Valor’s Rest is an organization that says it “honors veterans with ceremonies of remembrance and recognition.”
Mull said the event started in City Point in 2006, with just 191 wreaths to place. Now, there are over 600. Individuals, organizations and businesses purchased the $15 wreaths through the Wreaths Across America program.
As part of the ceremony, Mayor Christina Luman-Bailey read the names of current members from the armed forces placing wreaths in honor of the fallen from each branch of service.
SFC Albert Patton placed a wreath for the Army, Master Sgt. Dino Magbitang placed a wreath for the Air Force, Gunnery Sgt. James Pucket placed a wreath for the Marine Corps, 1st Class PO Luis Galvez placed a wreath for the Navy and Coast Guard, Master Sgt. Gerald Thomas placed a wreath for the Merchant Marines and retired Master Sgt. Dennis Mull placed a wreath for prisoners of war, across all branches.
As the service members placed the wreaths, local Girl Scout troops saluted each uniformed service member as the wreaths were placed in stands at the foot of the memorial tower in the middle of the cemetery.
“The wreaths before you represent our commitment to the United States of America and to remember the fallen,” Harney said. “We also want these holiday wreaths to symbolize our honor to those who have served in the armed forces for our great nation and to the families who endure sacrifices every day on our behalf.”
photo by Caitlin Davis 1st Class PO Luis Galvez lays a wreath for the soldiers of the Navy and the Coast Guard at the remembrance ceremony at City Point National Cemetery on Saturday.
The ceremony on Saturday also served as lesson to the girls scouts and other children in attendance and to the children who were not there that afternoon.
For Bailey, the the involvement of children was the best part of the ceremony. She said that having youth involved changes everything.
“I think having children involved made it especially touching and significant,” Bailey said. “It always kind of brings tears to your eyes at this ceremony.”
Like Bailey, Mull said the most important part of the ceremony was the lesson it can teach children about the importance of giving back to the service men and women of the community.
“We have to teach our children to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. We honor those who served and who are serving. We must teach our children. Maybe if we can teach our children we won’t have what’s happening in our schools,” Mull said, fighting back tears as he referred to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, where Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself.
Bill Rose, with American Legion Riders Post 284 in Colonial Heights, said the ceremony was beautiful and heartwarming. He agreed that teaching children about veterans and about soldiers fighting for the country is vital.
“I brought that up in my son,” Rose said. “Young kids need to know what it’s all about. You can crack the whip, but you can also teach.”
The ceremony was not just about the wreaths. It was also about the graves and making sure that those resting in them are more than a number or statistic.
“We could quote for you the statistics of individuals buried around the country, but all you would have is a bunch of numbers,” Harney said. “We instead ask that you take a moment to visit a gravesite to write down the information of the person placed there and when you return home, research their name on the Internet and find out all you can about that person.”
As Hilde Von-Ow, a member of Rolling Thunder, knelt down by a grave to place a wreath, she wrote down the information on the headstone, ready to go home and do research on that fallen soldier.
photo by Caitlin Davis During the ceremony, a wreath was placed for each branch of service and POWs.
“I felt that I had to go and take a conscious effort of seeing who the name was and maybe going home and researching it and remember the soldier falling for his country and the rights we have today,” Van-Ow said.