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Written by Maria McClure
Hopkinsville, KY – U.S. Army Spc. Aidan Sandel, 101st Airborne Division Band, stood at the ready holding his bugle Saturday, December 15th, 2018, before the Wreaths Across America remembrance wreath-laying ceremony at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West.
He would play “Taps” as the ceremony drew to an end.
“It is a great honor, absolutely,” Sandel said of being part of the ceremony. “‘Taps’ is kind of a precarious piece to play. There is always that little bit of worry that it will not sound right.”
To ensure he gets the notes just right, Sandel said he practices the poignant bugle call often.
Wreaths Across America began in 1992, when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, had 5,000 surplus of wreaths and donated them to Arlington National Cemetery to be placed in an old section of the cemetery not often visited.
Worcester quietly continued the tradition until 2005 when photos posted on the internet of the wreath-adorned graves at Arlington sparked national attention.
In 2007, Wreaths Across America was formed with the mission to remember the fallen, honor those who have served and teach the next generation the value of freedom through placing wreaths on the graves of veterans.
Today remembrance wreath-laying ceremonies are held the third Saturday in December at American veteran cemeteries in all 50 states, at sea, and abroad including for the first time this year at Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
“I find it quite appropriate that during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season that we take a few moments to think about and thank those who granted us the freedom that we enjoy,” said U.S. Army Col. Joseph P. Kuchan, Fort Campbell garrison commander, as he addressed the crowd of more than 600 volunteers who converged on the cemetery to place 2,950 remembrance wreaths on the graves of every veteran interred there.
“This year’s theme for Wreaths Across America is ‘Be Their Witness,’ which really embodies the entire mission that is to remember, honor and teach. We must never forget these fallen men and women, nor their service to our great nation,” Kuchan stated.
The ceremony was the culmination a yearlong annual campaign championed by the Gold Star Wives Eagles Chapter.
“Our goal is to raise enough funds to put a wreath on every veteran’s grave,” said Hazel Morrison, Gold Star Wives Eagles Chapter member. “This has been our best year.”
But it was not until 2011 – with the help of Clarksville artist Lynne Griffey, who donates artwork to help raise funds – that the chapter raised enough money to place a wreath on every grave at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West.
“It’s important to honor these men and women for their service and supreme sacrifice,” Morrison said.
The remembrance wreaths are meant to do just that.
“Each of the wreath’s components is rich in symbolism,” Kuchan said during his speech. “Its circular shape represents eternity, the evergreen represents everlasting life, the red bow represents the sacrifice of our veterans.”
To recognize that sacrifice to service, at the end of the ceremony Richard Stanley, director of Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West, charged every volunteer to take a moment and read each headstone as they placed the wreaths noting veterans’ names, awards and wars in which they served.
“My heart pounds in my chest with pride just to see the emotion that people bring with them,” Stanley said after the ceremony. “[The volunteers] are so grateful for what our veterans have done. They show up here to honor these men and women who served our country, so it’s very patriotic and it makes me very proud to be part of it.”
Among the volunteers was the Pennyrile Honor Guard based out of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. The group works within a 25-mile radius of Hopkinsville providing military services in Kentucky to “augment the parent service – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, there aren’t too many of them left around after World War II era,” said Quentin Stone, commander of the Pennyrile Honor Guard.
The group represents Kentucky chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled Veterans of America, the American Legion and Marine Corps Veterans.
“We posted and retired the colors at the Walmart Distribution Center where we did the transfer of the wreaths ceremony [December 13th, 2018],” Stone said. “Then the last two nights I personally provided security here at the cemetery during the evening, representing the Christian County Sherriff’s Office.”
This year more than 1.5 million wreaths were placed through the Wreaths Across America effort.
“It is fitting and proper to recognize those resting in veterans cemeteries wherever they are for the unselfish dedicated service they rendered onto our great nation,” Kuchan said. “Rejoice in our veterans by remembering them, by caring for them, by remaining gracious in victory, by healing our nation’s wounds, and striving for a hard fought and just peace, and by placing wreaths on their graves. Rejoice in our veterans and be their witness.”
Topics101st Airborne Division Band, Aidan Sandel, Christian Chacon, Cordell Smith, David West, Gold Star Wives, Hopkinsville KY, Joseph P. Kuchan, Kentucky Veterans Cemetery West, Maria McClure, Matt Wilson, Russellville KY, Thomas Ellis, Wreaths Across America
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