By Julie M. Lucas
NAS Jacksonville Public Affairs
Wreaths Across America provides wreaths to be placed on the graves of veterans around the United States. This year, about 30 Sailors from Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax) and Naval Station (NS) Mayport gathered to honor the fallen and assist with placing wreaths at Jacksonville National Cemetery Dec. 16. Some of the volunteers showed up in their dress uniform and others in casual clothes with their family members.
After the ceremony began, a group of Sailors lined up to stand in formation. Color guard duties were performed by Sailors from NS Mayport and NAS Jax. Wreaths were laid for each military service branch. Families in attendance were allowed to lay wreaths on their loved ones graves and have private time, before volunteers laid the rest of the wreaths.
"I remember our very first year of doing the wreaths in 2009 - it was blustery cold and we had nearly 300 volunteers to place 1,100 wreaths," said Wreaths Across America coordinator for Jacksonville Ralph Terreault. "It choked me up to look out that day and see all the faces of those who had shown up to volunteer."
Terreault served as master of ceremonies at the event and spoke about the incline of deaths of Vietnam Veterans.
"We are adding nearly 1,000 headstones a year to the cemetery," Terreault said.
Volunteers grabbed the pre-staged wreaths in each section, said the veteran's name and then placed the wreath, made of balsam and decorated with a red ribbon.
"I'm here today because this is a special event to my dad and I wanted to make him proud," said AD2 Joanne Sartian of NAS Jax. "I am happy that I could be here representing my command, in my uniform, and pay respect to all those paid the ultimate sacrifice."
The wreaths began being placed on veteran's graves in 1992 when a company had a surplus at the end of the year. The company continued placing wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery every year until a photo was published of the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery with the wreaths inspired the start of Wreaths Across America. Wreaths are now delivered to cemeteries around the U.S. by trucking partners and are escorted by Patriot Riders Guard, who took over the nonprofit organization.
Volunteers will be needed to pick up the wreaths after the holidays. Watch for announcements of the date in the local news and on social media. For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit www. wreathsacrossamerica.org.