KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Residents, friends and family of fallen soldiers heard a passionate speech by former Clay County Commissioner and retired U.S. Marine Gayward Hendry during an emotional Wreaths …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Residents, friends and family of fallen soldiers heard a passionate speech by former Clay County Commissioner and retired U.S. Marine Gayward Hendry during an emotional Wreaths Across America presentation Saturday at the Keystone Heights Memorial Gardens.
A total of 2,557 national cemeteries participated in the annual program where Christmas wreaths were placed on more than 1.7 million graves of American veterans. The project came to Keystone Heights 10 years ago by Australian Joan Jones, who told the audience this year’s effort will be her last.
“I’m 93 and I can’t see anymore,” she said.
She was honored by Clay County School Board member Tina Bullock, who presented he with a blanket depicting several pictures of her at past presentations. Bullock will take over for Jones next year.
Hendry wore his military Dress Blues and he spoke of honor, commitment, sacrifice and remembrance before visitors disbursed the wreaths throughout the cemetery.
“Poor is the nation that has no heroes,” Hendry said, “even poorer still is the nation that having heroes, fails to remember and honor them.”
Wreaths were placed on crosses bearing the flags of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and POWS/MIAs.
Each live, balsam veteran’s wreath is a gift of respect and appreciation, donated by a private citizen or organization and it is placed on graves by volunteers as a small gesture of gratitude for the freedoms Americans enjoy, according to the national organization. For centuries, fresh evergreens have been used as a symbol of honor and have served as a living tribute renewed annually. Wreaths Across America believes the tradition represents a living memorial that honors veterans, active-duty military and their families and when volunteers say the name of a veteran out loud, when placing a wreath, it ensures they live on in our memory.
Hayward said the sacrifice by the hundreds of soldiers buried in Keystone Heights always will be remembered.
“These winners aren’t being honored for what they received, but what they gave,” Hendry said. “The American military is unbeatable in war – not for the enemy in front of them, but the love behind them.”
Hendry compared the service from soldiers with the work of politicians. And he didn’t hold back.
“Politicians never come home crippled, broke or in body bags,” he said.
Wreaths Across America Executive Director Karen Worcester participated at Arlington National Cemetery.
“The 2020 theme for Wreaths Across America has been ‘Be an American worth fighting for,’ and this year I have been blessed to see my fair share,” she said. “The determination of the American people and their commitment to the mission to Remember, Honor, Teach, made it possible for us to move forward this year, safely. We are humbled, and forever grateful for the outpouring of support from all across the country.”
Keystone Heights was one of three Clay County cemeteries celebrating Wreaths Across America. The others were Jacksonville Memory Gardens and Holly Hill Memorial Park in Middleburg. Several military organizations, including AMVETS Post 86, American Legion posts from Keystone Heights, Middleburg and Orange Park, Vietnam Veterans of America and three veteran-based motorcycle clubs.