By Kelley Lane-Sivley, Redstone Rocket StaffDecember 10, 2008
A Christmas wreath is a simple thing, a circle of greenery with a bow. It symbolizes the spirit of the season. For the Redstone Garden Club, it also means something more. With their Wreaths for Veterans project, they are using simple Christmas wreaths to honor those who have served this nation.
"Our mission is to remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom," project chairman Joy Parker said.
Wreaths for Veterans is part of the larger Wreaths Across America organization, which began 17 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a non-profit organization run by volunteers. This is the second year the garden club has participated. They placed more than 1,600 wreaths on servicemember graves at both Maple Hill and Valhalla cemeteries in Huntsville on Dec. 3 and 4.
"That is just the ones we have placed," Parker said. "That doesn't include the ones family members have picked up to place themselves and the ones we have left at (cemetery) offices for people."
The preparation began weeks ago. Many volunteers spent hours fluffing and tying bows on the 24-inch silk wreaths the project uses. Without those extra hands, handling the volume of work would be almost impossible, Parker said.
"We've had 150 to 200 volunteers total," she said. "We've had whole clubs giving their time to help."
By using silk greenery, the club is able to ensure the wreaths look perfect from the day they are placed until the return to collect them on Jan. 5. It also means they can reuse them the following year, cutting down costs and allowing them to expand to include more gravesites.
"We want this to get bigger every year," Parker said.
They decorate graves for veterans of all wars. With the age of some of the graves in the cemeteries they service, that means some go back to the early days of America.
"There are Soldiers from the War of 1812 and the Civil War," Parker said.
Although the club only travels to two cemeteries in the community at this time, they don't want others overlooked. They have been supplying wreaths to family members whose loved one is not within the club's current route, as supplies have allowed. Although a donation is not required, any contributions go to keeping the project going. Family members have been appreciative of the club's effort.
"My dad served in World War I. He died eight years ago," Bruce Nelson, a family member, said. "This is a great thing to do. It means a lot."
On Saturday, the club will participate in a ceremony that will take place simultaneously at more than 300 cemeteries in the U.S., 24 foreign countries and on board Navy ships at sea. At 11 a.m., retirees from all branches will be laying fresh wreaths at the Veterans Memorial in the city section of Maple Hill Cemetery at the same moment other participants will be placing wreaths at their respective locations around the world. The wreaths for the ceremony will be specially hand delivered from Washington, D.C. for the ceremony. They will be decorated with American flags and military insignia.
"It will really be something," Parker said.
Various clubs and organizations will attend the ceremony, including an escort and display by local Patriot Rider motorcyclists. The public is also invited.
Costs for the wreaths are relatively low, Parker said. Local retailer Michael's has helped support the cause by allowing the club to buy wreaths and supplies in bulk at a discounted rate. Donations from club members, volunteers and family members have financed the endeavor. Their only real problem has been after the wreaths are collected, Parker said.
"We can't do any more without storage space," she said. "We've checked into it, but the cost would really take away from the project."
To make a donation or request more information, e-mail Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Wreaths Across America organization, visit www.Wreaths-across-america.org.