• Cecil Ruth and Betty Willis place wreaths on veterans' graves at Valhalla Cemetery in Huntsville.

    LAYING WREATHS

    Cecil Ruth and Betty Willis place wreaths on veterans' graves at Valhalla Cemetery in Huntsville.

  • Huibert Dehaan and Duane Hoffman carry wreaths through Valhalla Cemetery in Huntsville as they participate in Wreaths for Veterans.

    PATRIOTIC MISSION

    Huibert Dehaan and Duane Hoffman carry wreaths through Valhalla Cemetery in Huntsville as they participate in Wreaths for Veterans.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- They do it to honor those who have ever had to spend a holiday away from a loved one, and to remember those that never made it home.

Hundreds of volunteers turned out for the annual Huntsville tradition over the past two weeks, Wreaths for Veterans, now in its fifth year. They helped at all stages of the holiday outreach, from fluffing wreaths and adorning each with a red bow and tag that reads, "Through the generosity and actions of hundreds of volunteers this wreath is donated and placed on the grave of a true American hero" to placing wreaths on area graves. Last week, 750 wreaths were placed on veterans' graves at Valhalla Cemetery; 2,000 were placed on veterans' graves at Maple Hill Cemetery.

"It looks so gorgeous," said Rose Mary Bayer, standing back to admire the volunteers' work Thursday at Valhalla. "It just brings a special warmth to my heart to see and meet all these people who want to volunteer."

What began in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery has become a nationwide movement after a picture of the national cemetery's headstones decorated with the green wreaths and red bows, covered in white snow, began circulating the Internet in 2005. When Jennifer Hames, a member of the Redstone Garden Club, saw the picture she knew it was something the Huntsville community had to do.

"That was the most impressive picture," Hames said. "It really took my breath away."

Since 2007, hundreds of wreaths have covered the graves of the Tennessee Valley's heroes. Each wreath costs $5, paid for by the generosity of various military organizations and individuals throughout the community. For the group, all the money raised and work that goes into the effort is well worth it for the impact it has on the family and friends the veterans left behind, as well as for the memories of the veterans the wreaths commemorate.

"If you come out here and you see family members, you see them crying when they first look at it and they thank us, thank us, thank us," Bayer said. "That means a lot to me because that's what we're all about."

Wreaths for Veterans, Huntsville will join with the rest of the nation and the world Dec. 10 in a wreath laying ceremony at Valhalla Cemetery at 11 a.m. Volunteers are welcome to join in retrieving the wreaths Jan. 3 at 9:30 a.m. at Maple Hill Cemetery and Jan. 4 at 9:30 a.m. at Valhalla Cemetery.

Page last updated Mon November 28th, 2011 at 00:00