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At high noon, Saturday, December 16, citizens from across the Greater Jamestown area and Chautauqua County will gather at Soldiers Circle in the Lakeview Cemetery to honor local fallen heroes with a special wreath-laying ceremony. This commemoration will be part of a remembrance called “Wreaths Across America” taking place at more than 1,200 locations across the nation, as it has every year since 1992 on the second or third Saturday of December.
The purpose of the ceremony is to place a hand-made wreath on the gravesite of as many veterans as possible in remembrance of their service and sacrifice, as well as their families, friends and loved ones who waited at home.
“Some died in service and others passed many years later at home,” said Todd Hanson, now in his sixth year as location coordinator for the ceremony at Jamestown’s Lakeview Cemetery. “It is our intention to remember and honor them all.”
“This year, local residents have contributed 360 wreaths for placement in Soldiers Circle,” Hanson said. “More than 1.2 million wreaths were laid on graves across the country in Wreaths Across America remembrances last year.”
Last year, according to Hanson, nearly 80 people came to take part in the ceremony, in spite of the cold and snow. “We’re hoping for even more this year,” he added. “We would like as many people as possible to take part.”
Everyone who attends will be welcome to observe or, if they wish, to personally place a wreath on an individual gravesite and “…speak that veteran’s name aloud, thank them for their service and sacrifice, and reflect on that person and their life,” Hanson explained.
Members of the local Civil Air Patrol squadron will post flags and assist in the wreath placement ceremony. The ceremonial playing of Taps and a traditional 21 gun salute will create a memorable and moving experience for all who attend, whether to watch or to take part. Parking in the cemetery near the site is available.
Remember – Honor – Teach
The motto of Wreaths Across America, “Remember – Honor – Teach,” is intended to remind Americans to never forget the sacrifice and contributions of each veteran, to honor their memory and to teach younger generations about the value of their freedoms and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms.
The Wreaths Across America movement began in 1992 with a single trailer load of unused holiday wreaths from a small New England town, donated to volunteers willing to decorate and lay them at the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
This simple tribute continued quietly for several years. In 2005, however, a photo of snow covered stones adorned with wreaths at Arlington circulated around the internet and gained sudden, national attention. Thousands of offers were made by people across the country to help at Arlington and to recreate the project at their own cemeteries to honor their own local heroes.
By 2008, more than 300 locations and 60,000 volunteers in every state, service men and women at sea, in Puerto Rico and at 24 overseas cemeteries held wreath-laying ceremonies. They placed more than 100,000 wreaths on veterans’ graves. The US Congress unanimously declared December 13, 2008 as “Wreaths Across America Day”.
In 2014, every one of the 226,525 gravesite at the Arlington National Cemetery received a wreath. The “Jamestown Wreaths Across America” Facebook page offers a link to the now famous tractor-trailer parade that delivers those wreaths to Arlington. The movement is now slated to quickly surpass its current 1,200+ locations across the country.
The year 2017 will be the 8th year Jamestown’s 160-year-old Lakeview Cemetery has hosted the event, according to Lakeview’s director, Hugh Golden.
“What I appreciate most is the cross-section of people who come to the ceremony for such a wide range of reasons of their own,” Hanson said. “We want the public to realize how many men and women place themselves in harm’s way for us every day. We hope this ceremony will help people think about the families and loved ones at home, as well.”
Todd and Barbara Hansen are also a Blue Star father and mother, parents of active service members. “With Wreaths Across America we also want to offer our most sincere gratitude to the Gold Star Mothers (of soldiers lost in service) and their families,” Hanson added. “They deserve a special tribute.”
Although the deadline for donations has passed for this year, donations are still welcome and invited at any time for next year’s wreaths across America commemoration at Lakeview Cemetery.
A Wider Remembrance
“Our community is amazing. They are the key to it all,” said Susan Rowley, president of Blue Star Mothers, Lake Erie NY Chapter 4. The Blur Star Mothers support active duty troops and their families in many ways, including holiday care packages filled with TLC – from candy to personal care items and more – mailed anywhere overseas that the US military is stationed. This year, they sent a record-breaking 913 boxes packed by more than 350 volunteers, placing Jamestown among the top-five communities in the US.
The Blue Star Mothers also support the Wreaths across America program by selling wreaths as one of the more than 2,000 fundraising groups, corporate contributors, and donations of trucking and shipping services throughout the nation.
Our goal in Wreaths Across America is to help cover as many graves as possible,” Rowley said. “The sense of patriotism is amazing with our volunteers, and we want to share that.”
Readers are invited to visit Jamestown Wreaths Across America on Facebook to find out more about this rapidly growing organization and to contribute to next year’s commemoration, or visit the national website of Wreaths Across America at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/.
The services and work of the Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers can be found at bluestarmotherswny.com and at goldstarmoms.com. To learn more about the Jamestown Civil Air Patrol Composite Squadron 402, please visit www.jamestowncap.org/.