Nearly a dozen National Guardsmen spent much of Wednesday morning unloading 52 boxes filled with wreaths and placing them in a meeting hall at the Fort McClellan Army National Guard Training Center.
“This is something that is very humbling — something we’re very proud to be involved with,” said Col. Chuck Keith, a garrison commander at the training center, as he and other National Guardsmen laid out row after row of wreaths.
The local decorations are a part of Wreaths Across America, a nationwide effort to honor deceased veterans during the holidays. The project started in Washington’s Arlington National Cemetery in 1992 and has grown to include more than 500 cemeteries throughout the world.
At 11 a.m. on Saturday, military officials at Fort McClellan will hold a brief ceremony at the cemetery to coincide with hundreds of wreath-laying events across the country. Though the national program started 20 years ago, Saturday will mark the second year Fort McClellan’s cemetery has been a participating site.
“We’re just trying to bring our community together to remember and honor our troops,” said Michael Abrams, a member of the local committee that organizes the wreath-laying ceremony.
Abrams said that each year, about 160,000 volunteers throughout the country carry out Wreaths Across America. This year, volunteers helped distribute about 200,000 wreaths.
The decorations come from Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine. The owner of the company, Morrill Worcester, established the first wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.
The wreaths to be used in the McClellan ceremony were transferred from Maine by Michigan-based trucking company Load 1.
Local police escorted the shipment along Alabama 21 Wednesday morning.
“We got a lot of looks, a lot of thumbs-up,” said Load 1 driver Ken Johnson.
Donna Hosford, one of the local volunteers who helped organize the wreaths Wednesday, said she hopes the decorations will let the families of the veterans know that “someone still cares that they gave their life for this country.”
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Gerald Watson, head of the local committee, said the public is encouraged to attend the event.
Visitors are asked to enter through Baltzell Gate and to follow the signs directing them to the cemetery.
“We will honor hundreds of veterans and family members who served our nation right here at Fort McClellan,” he said in a press release. “We hope there will be a large turnout again this year to help us bring the holiday spirit to the Fort McClellan Military Cemetery.”
Saturday’s ceremony will include remarks by Anniston Army Depot’s Col. Brent Bolander, the depot commander and manager of the McClellan cemetery.
Kim Oliver, a fourth-grade teacher from Jacksonville, said she and at least nine of her family members will attend the event. A wreath will be placed at the grave of her grandfather, Junior C. Johnson, a World War II veteran who died in 1991. According to Oliver, Johnson joined the U.S. Army in 1939, and served in North Africa and the European theater during World War II. Johnson was hit by shrapnel in France in June of 1944 and was awarded the Purple Heart.
Oliver said her family is thankful to all of the people who make the Wreaths Across America ceremony possible.
“It’s another way to let people know that our veterans are not forgotten,” she said.
Assistant Metro Editor Daniel Gaddy: 256-235-3560. On Twitter @DGaddy_star.