By Jim DresbachDecember 20, 2012
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (Dec. 20, 2012) -- An estimated 27,000 people walked, commuted or drove to Arlington National Cemetery for a pre-Christmas tradition that has been celebrated by more than just Americans.
The Wreaths Across America wreath-laying ceremony has become an international event. For a decade, a German group of servicemen walk the sod of Arlington National Cemetery on cold December mornings to pay tribute to their military brothers. That tradition continued again, Dec. 15.
According to Brig. Gen. Hasso Kortge, commander, German Armed Forces Command for the United States and Canada, this is the 10th year he has been involved with Wreaths Across America. While waiting for his group to form and march into Section 17 for an informal wreath-laying ceremony, Kortge reflected on why his soldiers and airmen honor America service members.
"We shared and share a culture," Kortge said of the relationship between his armed forces and U.S. service members. "It is an honor and a privilege to come here and pay tribute to the Americans."
Just across the stone wall from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Memorial Chapel, 20 German nationals placed wreaths at the graves of American Soldiers and Sailors who fought in World War I or World War II.
Kortge honored the memory of Army Pvt. Louis Lazzarini, a World War I veteran, with a wreath and a salute. A number of shoulder lengths from the general, Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Kleinhenz knelt to place a wreath and snapped to attention in front of the grave of Airman Julius H. Yelton, Jr., who served during World War II and Korea.
The 2012 mass German salutation was Kleinhenz's second Wreaths Across America experience.
"Being in the service for over 30 years and being in war with the Americans together in Afghanistan, this is a very special moment for me to lay a wreath. That's a big honor for me," Kleinhenz said.
"I love that the public takes part in these things. What I love about this country is that you are so patriotic," he added.