KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Some 650 wreaths now adorn the headstones of the military veterans buried at Keystone Heights City Cemetery as a reminder that their families will be thinking of them during this …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Some 650 wreaths now adorn the headstones of the military veterans buried at Keystone Heights City Cemetery as a reminder that their families will be thinking of them during this Christmas and New Year’s holiday season.
“We are gathered as one nation to remember, honor and teach. We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society made up of many people from many walks of life. The freedom we enjoy today has not come without a price,” said Joan Jones, 90, of Keystone Heights, emcee and organizer of the Dec. 16 event.
The Keystone Heights cemetery joins in with the more 1,200 cemeteries nationwide taking part in National Wreaths Across America Day, which began in 1992. That year, Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, found the company had a surplus of wreaths at the end of the holiday season. With help from Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, Worcester placed the surplus wreaths on gravesites in the oldest section of Arlington National Cemetery.
The program remained low key and local until 2005, when a photo of a veterans’ headstone went viral over the internet and the movement began to grow from there.
“The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality. Our nation stands as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom to the world. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we shall not forget you, we shall remember,” Jones said.
Jones, a native of Australia, came to the U.S. at age 19 after meeting her husband during World War II. She said she owes her life to the United States of America.
“I’m an America Australian, not an Australian-American,” she said smiling.
Sarah Meadows, 20, of Keystone Heights, joined her family to lay a wreath of the headstone of her father, Edwin Harris Meadows III, who was 47 when he died from cancer in 2008.
“This is important to me because I want to remember him and honor him during this holiday season. I think the wreath is a great way to let him know he is always in our hearts and we love and miss him,” Meadows said.
Keynote speaker, Gayward Hendry, a retired U.S. Marine, told the approximately 200 guests that the event was to remember the sacrifice each veteran made for this country.
“We come here to honor veterans from Clay County who literally gave their service and lives for us. These warriors are being honored not for what they received, but for what they gave,” said Hendry, who also serves as a Clay County Commissioner.
Bagpiper Scotland Bolan of the First Coast Highlanders played “Amazing Grace” and taps, the bugle call for “lights out,” which is also sounded at military funerals, as well as each military branch’s theme song during the event. Different representatives from each branch of the military, merchant marines and POW/MIAs were represented with wreaths laid on crosses in their honor.
“Today, we show a united front of national unity all across the United State of America as we remember the fallen, honor those who have served, those serving today and teach our children the value of freedom,” Jones said.
The wreaths will be in place until Jan. 26.