It was quiet, peaceful and still as men and women gathered up on the hill at Douglas Park Cemetery Saturday morning. In between the murmurs of greetings and conversation were the sounds of arriving footsteps in the old, hardened snow. As they waited, the crowd continued to grow in size, with the gathering surrounding a pair of men covered in traditional Knights Templar attire, complete with head coverings featuring eye-catching Ostrich plumes.
Before them, a series of wreaths each serving purpose to represent each branch of military and prisoners of war were hung during the first-ever Wreaths Across America ceremony to take place in Douglas. As the nationwide observance expands each year, it was time to bring it to Douglas. The Clelland Commandery No. 12, Knights Templar took it upon themselves to make this happen, according to past commander Donald York.
Douglas’ cemetery has the better part of 600 veterans buried there, all of which deserve honor, respect and the opportunity for their names and stories to live on. With this being the first year of the event, 162 wreaths were brought in, consisting of grave-specific sponsors they received and excess wreaths from Wreaths Across America that were shipped to various locations across the country.
To remember our fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve and teach children the value of freedom, Wreaths Across America has grown significantly since its humble beginning in Arlington National Cemetery back in 1992. It all began when the Worcester Wreath Company found themselves with a surplus near the end of the holiday season. Owner Morrill Worcester, who had an impactful visit to Arlington as a 12-year-old child, made sure the wreaths be placed at the national cemetery, notably in an older section that had seen a decline in annual visitors.
The national observance featured 1,700 participating cemeteries in 2018, and has since grown to 2,000 this year, York said.
Being the first year for Douglas, York wants to grow the event over time so that eventually, all 600-plus veteran gravestones receive their own wreaths.
“Volunteers are always welcomed and encouraged,” he said. “We’re here to engage the public and give them an opportunity to remember these folks.”
During the ceremony, Senate District 2 Republican Brian Boner spoke about the importance of sharing experiences as veterans as the gap between those with military experience and those without continues to grow in America.
“This should be a reminder that each and every day we have that capacity and choice to do good,” he said. “None of this means anything if we don’t teach the next generation about these incredible Americans, both past and present.”
After honoring each branch with its very own wreath hung in a row on display, attendees dispersed throughout the cemetery to place every wreath they had on gravestones of veterans who have since passed away.
“We’re proud to be able to take part in keeping their deeds alive,” York said. “It keeps their memory alive and part of our community.”