WHEATLAND – Wreaths Across America has been the buzz around town for the past year. The local VFW Auxiliary teamed up with the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squad to raise money to put 1,000 wreaths on the graves of Veterans this year, and they did it.
The program first started in 1992 when leftover wreaths from the Worcester Wreath Company were placed on Veteran’s graves in Arlington. When a photo of the wreaths in the cemetery circulated the internet in 2005, it got national attention and every state wanted to do something similar. The owner of Worcester Wreath Company, Morrill Worcester, began sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military and for POW/MIAs.
In 2006, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, wreath-laying ceremonies were held at over 150 locations around the country. Platte County’s local CAP squad has been participating every year since then. But with such a small group, they struggled to raise enough money to barely make a mark in our cemeteries. This year they raised enough for 13 wreaths. But then the VFW Auxiliary heard about the program and added their number and resources to the cause along with the Wheatland REA and together raised enough funds for 1,000 wreaths and then some for Platte County Veteran’s graves. Donations came from businesses, organizations and individuals. Wreaths could be purchased for a specific grave or just the general fund. Due to a glitch in the computer ordering system, Platte County was shorted a few hundred wreaths. The company didn’t have enough to cover the order so the funds from the missing wreaths will be held over for next year and the proper amount will be reserved. They just weren’t prepared for the generosity of our community.
“We had ads on Facebook, the radio and the newspaper,” explained Monica Koerwitz of the Wheatland REA. Her father-in-law Lloyd Koerwitz is a Veteran of two wars and her son is currently serving in the military. “Last year we were only able to pay for 150 wreaths, but this year it was over a thousand.”
Donations for wreaths for the smaller towns in the county came in as well. The wreaths blanket the cemeteries in Guernsey, Hartville, Glendo and Chugwater.
“The 2020 theme for Wreaths Across America has been ‘Be an American worth fighting for,’ and this year I have been blessed to see my fair share,” said Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America. “The determination of the American people and their commitment to the mission to Remember, Honor, Teach, made it possible for us to move forward this year, safely. We are humbled, and forever grateful for the outpouring of support from all across the country.”
For 2020, 1.7 million Veterans’ wreaths were placed at 2,557 participating locations across the country.
Town of Wheatland employees went through the cemetery marking every Veteran grave with small orange flags and Koerwitz went through the list of specifically requested Veteran’s graves to ensure they were located and decorated. Volunteers of all ages from Memorial Baptist Youth Group, FFA, National Honor Society and individuals showed up in hats and gloves last Thursday and Friday to wire the wreaths to the stakes in 30 degree weather and the requisite Wyoming wind.
“I didn’t think it was right last year to just have the wreaths lying on the ground, so we hired Cobby Vineyard to weld stakes with loops at the top to hold the wreaths. He did a great job and (the wreaths) will be really pretty and visible from farther away now,” explained VFW member Ruth Herdt. “I really want to thank everybody for helping by purchasing wreaths and those who volunteered to hang them up.”
On Saturday morning at 10 a.m., the CAP squadron and leader Susan McDonald presented a ceremony and wired the donated wreaths from the Worcester Wreath Company at the Veteran’s Memorial representing each branch of our military. McDonald spoke about the wreaths were there to honor the lives of our Veterans, not their deaths. Senator Barrasso also submitted a letter in support that was read aloud. A small group of spectators attended the socially distant outside event. Afterwards, the squadron traveled to the outlying towns to hang wreaths at their cemeteries.
“It’s important to remember our Veterans, once we forget them, their sacrifice was in vain. It’s the least we can do for everything they did for us,” explained 14-year-old CAP member Rory Winter in her third year of participating with Wreaths Across America. “It’s my way of thanking them, being part of the ceremony every year and helping to place the wreaths.”
“We did really well this year and hope to do it every year,” Herdt said with a smile. “Our goal was 1,000 this year and we have a few extra to roll over to next year.”
There is a special sale going on from Dec. 19 to Jan. 15, 2021. For every two wreaths ordered, the wreath company will throw in a free one for next year’s event. So just like all the Christmas movies where Santa says, “good job, time to start working for next year the day after Christmas,” so is the case for Wreaths Across America.
It’s a beautiful sight to behold. Take a drive out to our cemeteries and witness the visible display of honor for our Veterans. As the Wreaths Across America organization says, “Each person involved has played an important part in the mission to remember the fallen, honor those that serve and their families, and teach the next generation the value of freedom.”
For more information, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.