Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the mailing address zip code.
For nearly 15 years, Wreaths Across America has been encircling the graves of veterans as a sign of remembrance and thanks during the holiday season.
The 3,500 veterans buried in the Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery will be part of the national event this year if local Pat Walker has anything to do with it.
“The goal every year is to cover the veterans’ cemeteries with wreaths,” Walker said. “Last year we did over 1,500 wreaths, but we have over 3,500 veterans buried here in Jacksonville. We are trying to remind people that now is the time to put your order in for a wreath.”
Wreaths Across America started in 1992 after Morill Worcester decided to do something with the surplus of wreaths his company had after the holiday season. The extra 5,000 wreaths later eneded up draped over the graves in Arlington Cemetery.
For more than a decade, Worcester and a team of volunteers adorned the graves of the national cemetery without recognition.
A photo of the snow-blanketed field of stones and wreaths sparked the nation’s desire to spread Worcester’s idea to every veteran cemetery, growing every year since.
In 2007 the nonprofit Wreaths Across America was officialy founded and, just in 2014, the nonprofit laid 700,000 wreaths at 1,000 locations, according to the nonprofit’s website.
For six years Walker and a team of volunteers have been laying wreaths on local veterans’ graves to uphold the nonprofit’s mission to, “remember, honor and teach.”
Family members who have left the Jacksonville area can purchase wreaths that will be placed on their family member’s grave site during the wreath laying ceremony in December.
Wreaths Across America ensures each veteran is remembered during the holidays, Walker said.
“When I think of all the veterans that have served our county and the fact that maybe somehow, their famliy has moved away, this remembers those men and women who gave their life for our country,” she said. “Even if they are not killed in action, they are still a veteran until the day they die, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. We put a wreath on their grave so they are not forgotten. I get involved and I take it to heart. This was very important to me. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to do it.”
Inspired by the image of the wreaths in Arlington, Walker hopes to create the same vision locally.
“If you want to see a sight, the wreaths in Arlington is it,” she said. “It is so beautiful. Those white stones with green wreaths. It is just breathtaking.”
Local veterans groups as well as the community have joined Walker and her team’s efforts to provide every grave with a wreath.
Walker already has 1,000 wreaths reserved for this year and hopes that continued fundraising efforts and families ordering wreaths will help reach her goal of 3,500 wreaths being placed.
“We have already had some fundraisers this year that have been wonderful,” she said. “Every dollar raised goes to Wreaths Across America towards a wreath.”
Those funds are used to purchase wreaths for graves that may not have family to personally buy a wreath.
All wreaths must be purchased by Thanksgiving Day, Walker said, in order to give her time to place her order and have the wreaths ready for the wreath laying ceremony on Dec. 17.
The ceremony at the local veterans cemetery is reminescent of the ones performed in the nation’s capital in both Arlington and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
A representative from all the branches of service, including the Merchant Marines, will be present.
Veterans representing POW and KIA will present a wreath at the flag poles in the cemetery, followed by a guest speaker, Walker said.
“It is short and simple but humbling so that people know that we have not forgotten the vets that have gone before them,” she said.
Wreaths can be purchased with a check or money order made out to Wreaths Across America for $15.
Those checks can be mailed to Walker at:
P.O. Box 7325
Wreaths Across America
Jacksonville, N.C. 28540.
For more information about the local program, call Walker at 910-545-9333 or visit onslowvietnammemorial.com. For more information about Wreaths Across America visit wreathsacrossamerica.com.