• Wreaths Across America decorate cemetery

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    More than 1,500 volunteers participated in the National Wreaths Across America Day Dec. 16 at the Frontier Conference Center and the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, placing 7,000 wreaths on the graves.
    “This is absolutely overwhelming, the people that are here today to help us,” said Betty Wright, sponsorship group coordinator for Wreaths Across America. “Every year, we try to cover the 19,000 that we want to honor. We haven’t made it all in one year, but in eight years, including this year, we’ve sponsored 23,806 wreaths.”
    Along with individual sponsorship, several groups and organizations sponsored wreaths, including the Kansas City Royals Charity providing 1,200, the United Services Benefit Association providing 500, Wounded Warriors of Kansas and Missouri providing 300, Ozawkie American Legion Post 225 providing 150, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter, Mission Hills, Kan., providing 150.
    During a ceremony in the FCC, volunteers placed nine ceremonial wreaths in honor of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, prisoners of war and those missing in action, those killed in action, and those lost to suicide. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Holton Post 1367 Honor Guard fired salute volleys, and “Amazing Grace” and Taps were played.
    Mary Nichols, whose husband Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Nichols was killed in action Aug. 6, 2011, in Afghanistan, said hearing Taps always makes her emotional.
    “It’s overwhelming. I’m crying in there,” Nichols said. “Every time they play Taps, if you’ve lost somebody you can’t help but cry. But it’s amazing, I love that they do things like this.”
    Nichols said her husband loved serving.
    “He would have been a lifer. He loved it,” she said.
    Though her husband is buried in Palco, Kan., Nichols volunteered with friends Bob Omer and Shanon Wolfe to place a wreath on the grave of Spc. Spencer Duncan, who was also killed in action in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.
    Guest speaker retired Col. Lynn Rolf Jr. said he was proud to see so much support for veterans.
    “My era of Vietnam veterans, we swore when we came back, because we weren’t treated very well, that we would make sure our younger generation and those veterans of Iraq (and) Afghanistan that came after us would never be treated again the same way,” Rolf said. “Probably one of the proudest things that I see now is how America treats our returning vets and understand that they’re warriors and that they’re loved by our country, whether they agree with policy or not.”
    Rolf said he wanted to let people know that “it’s alright to cry.”
    Page 2 of 3 - “Those of us who have served and have worn the uniform, we know what the price of freedom is. I’m not sure that all of America does, but I know everyone in this audience does. It’s a high price,” he said. “Today is a day of remembrance. ... When you place those wreaths today and speak the names of those veterans and loved ones that are out in the cemetery, take a pause and I hope today’s not the only day you do that. Keep that name close to your tongue.”
    Diana Pitts, Wreaths Across America location coordinator, said speaking a person’s name after his or her death ensures that he or she doesn’t die a second time.
    “I would like to let you know that a person dies twice. The first time is when they take their last breath on earth. The second time is the last time their name is spoken. Look at that name, say that name, plant the bow on that wreath, place that wreath and that person will never die.”
    Five-year volunteer Yvonne Carey said Wreaths Across America represents what America is about.
    “I think patriotism should be taught in schools. I think those that serve and that have served, and even the ones that are killed in action, that is what makes this country,” she said. “Honor, remember and teach, and I think that should be No. 1.”
    Sgt. Jean Thornton, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Joint Regional Correctional Facility, said she simply wanted to honor her father, a 34-year veteran, and those who gave everything.
    “I want to do everything I can to honor what he did for the country and everything that every person here has done and lost their lives,” Thornton said. “It’s pretty cool. Just to give them a little Christmas cheer, and it’s just another way of saying thank you for everything.”
    Second-year volunteer Heather Owens, wife of Sgt. Steven Owens, who is currently deployed to Korea, said she wanted her children — Matthew, 18, Allyson, 15, and Emma, 6 — to understand the sacrifice.
    “It’s really important to me, just remembering them all, (and) that nobody is ever forgotten,” Owens said. “I bring my children and teach them how important it is and why we do have our freedom and what they did for them.”
    Matthew Owens said he could relate.
    “It’s really cool. It means a lot to me,” he said. “I understand what everyone here are going through, I can relate. It’s nice to give thanks and help keep these people alive.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Pitts said Wreaths Across America is all about remembering the price of freedom.
    “Here today we remember that we are one nation with one flag,” she said. “The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price.”
    Pitts quoted President Ronald Reagan saying, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream,” she quoted. “It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
    The next Wreaths Across America will be Dec. 15, 2018. To donate or sponsor a wreath, visit https://wreaths.fastport.com/donateLocation.html?page=18192&relate=14832.
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