Friday, December 10, 2010

Wreaths Across America: Remembering soldiers in the Civil War, other conflicts

On Saturday (Dec. 11), thousands of volunteers, many dressed for brutal cold, will fan across the nation’s cemeteries, placing holiday wreaths at the graves of veterans, including those who fought in the Civil War.

Adorned with a red bow, the wreaths will represent a nation’s remembrance to those lost to battle and old age.

Civil Air Patrol cadets and Boy Scouts will place a couple hundred wreaths after a noon ceremony at Andersonville National Cemetery near Americus, Ga. The Sons of the American Revolution and the Patriot Guard also will be on hand, rain or shine.

They’ll place the wreaths after remarks from Robert “Chappy” Kelly, a police chaplain with the Americus Police Department and a major in the Civil Air Patrol.

“It’s pretty emotional,” Kelly said of the annual observance put on by the non-profit group Wreaths Across America.

The program got its start in 1992 when the head of the Worcester Wreath Co. had the idea of honoring veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Since, then it’s spread to hundreds of other cemeteries, including Andersonville.

The organization has grown from 13 volunteers to more than 160,000. It will deliver 219,000 wreaths to Arlington and to more than 300 state and national cemeteries, overseas, and to ships at sea.

“You meet a lot of nice people who need closure,” said Kelly, indicating he sends photos of headstones with wreaths to relatives who cannot come to the cemetery.

Eric Leonard, volunteer coordinator at Andersonville National Historic Site, which adjoins the site, told the Picket the cemetery is one of about a dozen national cemeteries holding the remains of Civil War soldiers.

Andersonville, of course, was the site of an infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp. About 13,000 Union soldiers died there.

Wreaths Across America this week dropped off about 150 wreaths, but Leonard said others will be placed by individuals at several hundred of the nearly 20,000 graves.

“We really want families to bring wreaths during the month of December,” he said.

He asks that they be about 20 inches wide and made of Fraser fir. Each also has a red velveteen bow.

“We keep them out as long as they look good,” Leonard said.

Most of the Andersonville wreaths will be placed at those who have died in recent years, but several will also go in the Civil War-era sections.

“To really understand the scale [of the Civil War graves] you need to get out of your car and walk the rows,” Leonard said.

Andersonville is one of only two national cemeteries administered by the National Park Service still classified as open. It holds the remains of five soldiers killed in Afghanistan in Iraq. About 13 NPS Civil War sites are affiliated with national cemeteries.

“It’s just a way to honor those that went before,” said Kelly, who organized the annual event at Andersonville.

Photos courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site

More on Wreaths Across America, event locations

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