By: Amy Wendt
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
On December 16, 2023, many Americans congregated in cemeteries across the nation to remember our heroes during the National Wreaths Across America Day (WAA).
In Fulton County, Swanton area residents of all ages gathered at the Swanton Cemetery to commemorate the event led by the Swanton American Legion Murbach-Siefert Post #479.
First Vice Commander John Schmidt opened the event by thanking the crowd for joining the WAA mission to “remember, honor, and teach.”
Following a moment of silence and invocation offered by the SAL Post #479 chaplain, the Springfield High School Color Guard marked the solemn commencement of the ceremony by posting the nation’s colors.
The Pledge of Allegiance was then led by Wyatt Wilson and Brenden Phillips before a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem was performed.
First Vice Commander Schmidt offered a few words before introducing the keynote speaker.
“This year across the country at 4,225 participating locations, just like this one, there are millions of Americans gathering safely as one nation to remember, honor, and teach. We are all proud to be Americans who live in a free society made up of many people from many walks of life.”
“The freedoms that we enjoy today have not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear.”
“Today, we show a united front of gratitude and respect across the United States of America as we remember the fallen, honor those who serve and their families, and teach the next generation the value of freedom.”
“Remember we are not here today to decorate their graves. We are here to remember NOT their deaths, but their LIVES. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful America.”
Area veterans took a moment to lay wreaths for each branch of the military: Army, Marine Corps., Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Merchant Marine, and Coast Guard. A wreath was also put in place for the 93,129 U.S. servicemen and women whose last known status was either Prisoner of War or Missing in Action.
Before leaving the podium, Schmidt also took a moment to offer gratitude to the local businesses and individuals who generously sponsored wreaths for the 2023 Swanton Cemetery and St. Richard Cemetery ceremonies.
Swanton resident Master Sergeant David Harrison of the 180th Fighter Wing was the featured speaker.
Quoting President Ronald Regan, Harrison noted, “‘Veterans know better than anyone else, the price of freedom, for they’ve suffered the scars of war. We can offer them no better tribute than to protect what they have won for us.’”
“Today with this small act, we are doing just that. Today we come together, community members, young and old, as volunteers here at the Swanton Cemetery to fulfill the mission of Wreaths Across America.”
Master Sgt. Harrison also shared the symbolism of what the wreath represents. Throughout history, fresh evergreens have stood as a symbol of honor, serving as a living tribute. Further, those volunteers placing wreaths are asked to speak the veteran’s name out loud and thank them for their service to our country.
To conclude the ceremony, Taps was played by Swanton American Legion Post #479 Commander Rick Maynhart.
Volunteers were then released to place wreaths on Veteran graves. Area Boy Scouts and Evergreen High School FFA students were among those who lent helping hands in the volunteer efforts. A bus was also available onsite to shuttle volunteers to St. Richard Cemetery for wreath placement.
In Williams County, a service held at the Floral Grove Cemetery was conducted on a more intimate scale. Unfortunately, organizers faced challenges related to a shortage of wreath sponsorships and volunteers.
Despite these limitations, the community came together to honor and remember, creating a heartfelt and meaningful tribute.
Wreaths Across America provides several opportunities for volunteers to join in their mission. For further details and to get involved in the 2024 effort, please visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org or reach out to your local Amvets, VFW, or American Legion Post.