SIDNEY — “Say the Name.”
Across the United States on Saturday, Dec. 17, that’s what volunteers with the 2016 Wreaths Across America program will be doing. As they place a wreath on the grave of the person who served their country in the military, the information on the tombstone will be read so those present can honor them
As the ceremony unfolds at Arlington National Cemetery, local volunteers will be performing the same ritual at Graceland Cemetery in Sidney. The ceremony, which is open to the public, will begin at noon on Dec. 17.
“We thought this would be a neat project to become involved with,” said Mike Bennett, chairman of the Shelby County Veterans to D.C. committee. The local group had organized 11 trips to Washington, D.C., so veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War could see the memorials built in their honor. After the final trip, the group decided not to take any more trips to D.C., but would instead focus on different projects involving veterans in the county.
“This is the 25th year of placing the first wreath at Arlington,” said Bennett. “Last year, in 2015, wreaths were placed on every headstone and column in Arlington. There were 240,815 wreaths placed and 70,000 people helped with the project.”
In order to participate in the program, the local group had to register Graceland Cemetery as an official site where the wreaths will be placed.
“There are three tenants for Wreaths Across America,” said Bennett. “Remember … Honor … Teach. We’re hoping by beginning the program in Shelby County, that we can continue the tradition started 25 years ago.”
The 1,108 locations across the country where the wreaths will be placed are big cemeteries — national VA cemeteries — to small cemeteries and organizations like the one in Shelby County.
“The wreaths are all shipped out of Maine,” said Bennett. “The trucks will begin at the east coast, go down the coast and then come back up to Arlington. It’s the longest veterans parade in the country and is escorted by a motorcycle honor guard.”
When the committee first began talking about participating in the program, Bennett contacted Duane Gaier, city of Sidney Parks and Recreation director.
“There are 68 cemeteries in Shelby County,” said Bennett. “Some of them you can only reach by using grid coordinates. They are off the beaten roads and paths.
“So for our first year we decided to focus on the 50 government issue tombstones at the flagpole at Graceland,” said Bennett.
The Wreaths Across America program offers different ways to purchase wreaths. The local group opted for the one where if you purchase two wreaths you receive a third wreath for free.
“We have 119 wreaths ordered,” said Bennett. “We’ll be placing the additional wreaths on veterans tombstones immediately around the 50 at the flag pole.
“We are not decorating the tombstones. We are honoring our veterans,” he said. “The ceremony will help us remember these people at Christmas. We will remember those overseas in countries such as Iraq and Germany. This is a special time for the troops. In Germany, many families had troops over to their homes for Christmas.”
The basis of the program, he said, is to remember, honor and teach. By laying the wreath, the person is remembered. By laying the wreath, the person is honored. By laying the wreath, others will be taught about the sacrifices made by the veterans.
“We have reached out to the Boy Scouts to involve them with the placing of the wreaths ceremony,” said Bennett, who added the Girl Scouts will also be contacted. “As the veteran or volunteer and scout places the wreath on the tombstone, they will read what’s on the tombstone.
“We’ll also have the seven ceremonial wreaths that are given to each site by the company. They recognize each branch of service and the POW/MIAs. The colors will be posted by members of each veteran organization in Sidney.”
The Wreaths Across America is more than just a wreath-laying ceremony.
“They’ll also send us ‘thanks a million’ cards to give to veterans,” said Bennett. “All our committee members will have them and will be giving them out.”
This year’s ceremony, said Bennett, is just a start to future programs.
“Next year we want to open it up so other people can purchase wreaths,” said Bennett. “We’re going to kick it off around Memorial Day and we’ll have a drive where people can send money and sponsor wreaths.
“This year, we just wanted to start at Graceland and go from there,” he said. “Next year, people will be able to sponsor wreaths, buy wreaths in memory of someone and buy the wreath and take to to another tombstone in Graceland or in another cemetery.”
Bennett said the Dec. 17 ceremony will include the color guard posting the colors and the placement of the ceremonial wreaths. The ceremony will start at noon and the public is invited to attend.