Approximately 7,540 wreaths will make their way to the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake, on Dec. 18. The wreaths will be placed on the graves at the cemetery for National Wreaths Across America Day.
What started as a quiet tribute from a wreath maker to the veterans at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992, National Wreaths Across America Day has grown in size, encompassing more than 2,500 locations in all 50 states.
"My favorite part (of the day) is seeing the joy and hearing it in the loved ones' voices when people thank us for remembering and honoring their loved one," said Ann Provencher, Wreaths Across America coordinator for the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery.
Provencher has been with the organization for 11 years. This year is her third year as coordinator. The local chapter of Wreaths Across America was started by Gold Star families in the area. As more help was needed, Rolling Thunder North Carolina Chapter 1 stepped in to help. Provencher also serves as the Chapter 1 Chairman of the Board.
"It is often said a person dies twice. First when they leave this world and again when they are forgotten," she said. "Too many of our heroes no longer have family in the area, or the family members have health issues that prevent them from being able to be there in person or no living family to visit them. It's our duty to make sure they are remembered."
Wreaths Across America's mission statement is to remember, honor and teach. They remember veterans from the Revolutionary War to present and honor veterans by laying wreaths at cemeteries across the United States. The organization teaches future generations about the cost of freedom and "the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms," according to their website, www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. The organization's website offers downloadable activities for kids to learn the importance of honoring the nation's veterans.
Wreaths are laid on veterans' headstones as part of the National Wreaths Across America Day ceremony, which will take place on Dec. 18 at noon at the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery; mask-wearing is encouraged for this event. This year, the ceremony will welcome Lt. Gen. Walter Gaskin, Secretary for the North Carolina Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, and the Hon. Ronald J. Rabin, retired U.S. Army Col., as guest speakers. Once the ceremony is over, attendees are invited to help place the wreaths on headstones. There is a specific way to lay the wreath, Provencher explained. The wreaths are placed at the bottom of the headstone with the ribbon at the top. The person laying the wreath should say the veteran's name out loud and pay their respects. Some of the wreaths are donated for a specific veteran by family members, and Provencher said they work hard to make sure the family members are the ones who lay the wreaths on their veteran's headstone.
Wreaths Across America is always looking for volunteers. The Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery Wreaths Across America committee currently has five people, but Provencher said more are always welcome.
"Just think of what we could do if more people were helping," she said.
People are needed to help set the event up, clean up after and deliver the wreaths to the cemeteries. This year, the wreaths will be picked up at the Spring Lake Fire Department at 9 a.m. on Dec. 18 and conveyed to the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery. Trucks will be needed to help deliver more than 7,500 wreaths. Provencher stressed the importance of having enough vehicles to carry the wreaths to their destination. Rolling Thunder North Carolina and the local highway patrol will be escorting the convoy to the cemetery. Additional wreaths will be taken to the Main Post Cemetery at Fort Bragg.
To locate a veterans cemetery where National Wreaths Across America day ceremonies take place, visit the organization's website and type in the name or location of the cemetery. Wreaths can be sponsored individually or through a sponsorship group. Sponsorship groups can be created by contacting Trish Gardner at email@example.com.
Wreaths Across America hosts events throughout the year to help fundraise for National Wreaths Across America Day. This year, the Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery Wreaths Across America group will be offering a weapon raffle. Tickets can be purchased at the ceremony on Dec. 18 and throughout the coming months. The winner will be announced at the second Annual Golf Tournament, held Apr. 2, 2022, at Anderson Creek Club Golf Course. For questions regarding the golf tournament, call Bobbi Younker, Golf Tournament Chair, at 301-752-0093.
"One of the most asked questions we get is, why we utilize donated funds toward wreaths to place on veterans' graves instead of using it for living veterans," said Provencher. "I will share this response from Gold Star Mother Diana Unger Pitts:
"I have thought about this over the 15 years my son has been gone. For me, it's amazing to see the living veterans' tears as they are able to place a wreath on their fallen brothers’/sisters' grave, say their name and salute them. Telling me, I promised I would never forget them. It's knowing a mother who understands her son is here, and she and her family will honor him all year while a young man just like him, killed in action many decades ago, has no living family. The mother chooses to place a wreath on that young man's grave instead of her son's because she wants to be sure she is doing [this] for his mom. Never forgetting her son's sacrifice.
It's coming together as friends and family for the love of freedom, country, sacrifice and honor that our military provides."