Story and photos by Pamela Beal
1ST Inf. Div. Post
Every year cemeteries around the world honor American veterans by placing wreaths on their graves or markers.
According to wreathsacrossamerica.org, more than 1,600 locations in the United States, at sea and abroad coordinate with Wreaths Across America and Arlington National Cemetery conducts their ceremony. This year, that date was Dec. 14 and volunteers arrived at Fort Riley cemetery to participate.
"This is our 13th year to do this, and it is strictly volunteer," said Jerri McBride, of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1281 and Wreaths across America Fort Riley Leader.
Wreaths can be purchased each year by going to the organization's website.
"Today, we are laying 504 wreaths, so that's $5,040 that was donated," McBride said. "We thank the community for doing that. We place ceremonial wreaths for all of the military services in our country: Army, Navy, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force and also we do wreaths for the POW/MIA and the Gold Star families."
Wreaths Across America promotes the idea of remembering, honoring and teaching. Each year they do this with a different theme -- this year's theme is 'Everyone Plays a Part,' she said.
Before volunteers began laying the wreaths, Col. Kevin Lambert, 1st Infantry Division Chief of Staff, gave some background history for the event.
"In the late 50's, early 60's, Morrill Worcester was a 12-year-old paperboy, and he won a trip to Washington D.C.," Lambert said. "On that trip he saw many sights, but the thing that impressed him most was his trip to Arlington Cemetery. Later, Morrill Worcester, in 1971, would become a small business owner and establish the Worcester Wreath Company.
In 1992 he had an abundance of wreaths … and arranged for those wreaths to be delivered to Arlington Cemetery, remembering the impact that trip he had on him as a 12-year-old boy. He arranged for the wreaths to be delivered to a portion of the cemetery that was not well traveled, because Soldiers buried there might not be remembered this time of year.
"Well, 27 years later, and in over 1,600 locations, 700,000 wreaths will be laid today across America and overseas as we honor those who have served our nation. This year, for the 13th time, we gather at the Fort Riley Cemetery … to lay wreaths along with hundreds of thousands of volunteers across America," Lambert said.
Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Meyer gave the invocation. Wreaths for the military branches were presented by Lambert, for the Army; Mike McCandless, Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary 4th District president for the Marines; David Ebersole, VFW Auxiliary 4th District commander, Navy; John Roe, Elks Chapter 1037 esteemed ruler, Air Force; Karin Hansen, Manhattan Disabled American Veterans Chapter 28, Coast Guard; and Spc. Adrian Hernandez, Irwin Army Community Hospital, Merchant Marines.
A wreath was placed in honor of Gold Star families by 1st Sgt. David Lawrence, who placed it in memory of his brother, Staff Sgt. Mark Lawrence, and in memory of those paid the ultimate sacrifice for the United States. The Prisoners of War/Missing in Action wreath was laid by Command Sgt. Maj. Jose Barajas of 1st Infantry Division Artillery.
Volunteers from the VFW, DAV, Elks Lodge, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, other local organizations and individuals helped to lay the wreaths at the headstones across the cemetery and were asked to say the name of the Soldier as the wreath was laid so their names are never forgotten.