Wreaths honor fallen veterans at Christmas season
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Dec 15, 2013 | 2785 views |  0 comments | 77 77 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Wreaths are shown on gravestones Saturday at the military cemetery at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Shannon Tucker)
Wreaths are shown on gravestones Saturday at the military cemetery at McClellan. (Anniston Star photo by Shannon Tucker)
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People in winter wear gathered in the mist just outside the gates of the McClellan Military Cemetery Saturday to honor deceased veterans at a holiday wreath-laying ceremony.

People at cemeteries across the nation were carrying out similar ceremonies to recognize veterans buried there, doing so as part of a nationwide effort called Wreaths Across America. The movement is 22 years old, and local organizers began participating three years ago. On Saturday, 353 gravestones were dressed with wreaths and two gravestones were marked with prayer stones, which were placed to honor people of Jewish faith buried there.

“There is no discouraging weather pattern that will halt or diminish this great community’s quest to recognize those who have served by hosting such a spectacular event as which is about to take place here today,” said Col. Brent Bolander, commander of the Anniston Army Depot. “During this wonderful month of December, many locations throughout this great nation will celebrate Wreaths Across America.”

The ceremony began with a moment of silence for fallen soldiers and veterans classified as prisoners of war or missing in action. It continued with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, a formal presentation of the United States flag and a prayer.

Rain droplets made popping noises as they fell atop open umbrellas when the crowd settled in for the ceremony. Before children dressed the gravestones inside the cemetery, retired servicemen and women and some of their family members presented wreaths outside the gates of the cemetery for each division of the military and to honor prisoners of war and veterans.

“You’re always in the service, even when you retire,” said Lt. Col. Jack Walker, 80, who retired from the Air Force. “Anything like this, you’re always available.”

The weather prompted members of the Mount Cheaha Harley Davidson Chapter from Oxford to cancel a group ride to the event, but at least three members still attended.

“It’s the least we can do. These people gave all. We can stand out here and honor them,” said Don Brown of Anniston.

Husband and wife riders Janet and Stephen Smith of Weaver are also part of the motorcycle group. They too attended the ceremony, despite the weather conditions.

“I am a veteran,” said Stephen Smith. “I still feel like part of the brotherhood.”

Maj. Gen. Gerald Watson spearheaded the move to bring the ceremony to McClellan. The event is funded by donors and cost about $4,000, said Michael Abrams, a local U.S. Army spokesman.

Watson addressed the Scouts and the 4-H Green Team members right after they finished placing wreaths on the simple white tombstones at the military cemetery.

“All of these things you are free to do because those tombstones upon which you laid the wreaths are the graves of someone who gave their life to protect your country,” Watson said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.
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