It’s a holiday tradition that has only grown over the years and is celebrated all around the country: Wreaths Across America.
It’s a time to honor those who have served our country and pay tribute to the lives of family and friends that are certainly heroes in their own right. Here in Erie, a wreath is being placed at 1,349 gravesites meant to honor and remember those who have served and have since passed.
A ceremony was held at the Pennsylvania Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home. Wreathes representing each military branch were placed by active service members, with veterans of those branches being asked to salute their respective wreaths.
The cemetery at Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home is a particularly significant one with dates of those buried going back as far as the Civil War era.
“Our goal is to remember, honor and teach, and it’s particularly significant for our cemetery. For a lot of the gravesites here in our cemetery, it will be the only day of the year that they’ll receive the proper commemoration that they deserve,” said Ken Vybiral, volunteer resources coordinator, Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home.
Vybiral said that Wreaths Across America also serves as a way to teach the next generation the value of freedom, and one local ROTC member weighed in.
“There’s some 93,000 that have just been forgotten over the years and their last known place was as a prisoner of war or lost in action. They’re the ones who are willing to go into service and risk their lives for the freedom of other Americans,” said Cadet Airman Caydan Barton, ROTC.
As wreaths were placed, loved ones and volunteers said the name on the tombstone as a sign of respect. Emotions were high all afternoon, but for being a cemetery, it wasn’t only a somber mood.
“You see smiles, you see tears, you see joy, you see sadness, you see some reflections going on. It’s a very beautiful time of the year and that’s why we love to participate in Wreaths Across America,” said Barb Raymond, director of Bureau of Veterans Homes.