WINCHESTER — The largest number of holiday wreaths to date adorned the headstones in Winchester National Cemetery on Saturday morning during the annual Wreaths Across America remembrance ceremony.
Sponsored locally by the Winchester Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, Wreaths Across America is a national program that, for 11 years, has honored deceased members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, as well as those listed as prisoners of war or missing in action, during the holiday season.
“This year, we have 3,033 wreaths,” said Technical Sgt. Jacob D. Bixler of the West Virginia Air National Guard. “All the wreaths were the result of donations by individuals and businesses.”
The Worcester Wreath Co. of Maine started the Wreaths Across America initiative in 2006 by encouraging people to sponsor holiday wreaths for placement in military cemeteries. Each remembrance wreath costs $15, and more than 1,600 burial locations in all 50 states participated in Saturday’s national Wreaths Across America Day.
Last year, over 500 people placed more than 1,900 wreaths in Winchester National Cemetery. The number of volunteers held steady this year, even though the number of sponsored wreaths grew by a third.
Saturday’s volunteers ranged from young children to senior citizens, bikers to Boy Scouts, active military personnel to people who never served.
For the second year in a row, Mother Nature was not kind to them. Regardless, the cold, rainy weather did not deter any of the volunteers from paying tribute.
“It’s a small price to pay for those who have fallen for our country,” said Clearbrook resident Terry Jenkins, an Air Force veteran who braved the rain with his wife, Tiffany Jenkins, and their 14-year-old son, Barton Renner.
“We want to make a family tradition out of this,” added Tiffany Jenkins.
Barton admitted he would have rather been next to a warm fire than standing in the cold rain, but he and other members of the James Wood High School baseball team volunteered “to represent our troops because we’re respectful.”
“I really appreciate seeing all the youth out here because I know they’re being taught to remember our nation’s veterans,” Bixler said. “These citizens are taking time during the busy Christmas season to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Volunteer Wayne Hardesty, of Winchester, said he retires flags for local businesses, and when he does, he cuts out the individual stars so he can present them to military veterans.
“I love my freedom and it didn’t cost me anything,” Hardesty said.
Local Wreaths Across America program coordinator Linda Stuckey, a second lieutenant in the Winchester Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, said the sharp rise in the number of sponsored wreaths this year makes her optimistic about one day placing a holiday wreath on every one of Winchester National Cemetery’s nearly 5,200 graves.
“This event seems to grow every year,” Stuckey said. “We’ve done it in snow, we’ve done it in rain, and it doesn’t stop us. It only makes us stronger.”
For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org.