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Clay County readies to honor fallen soldiers during Wreaths Across America

Five ceremonies planned locally for Dec. 16

Posted 12/7/23

CLAY COUNTY – As the holiday season approaches, the county is preparing to once again participate in a nationwide movement that witnessed more than 2.7 million wreaths being placed throughout …

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Clay County readies to honor fallen soldiers during Wreaths Across America

Five ceremonies planned locally for Dec. 16


Posted

CLAY COUNTY – As the holiday season approaches, the county is preparing to once again participate in a nationwide movement that witnessed more than 2.7 million wreaths being placed throughout thousands of cemeteries last year. Each wreath placed on each gravestone honors the lives of the fallen men and women who served in the military.

Keystone Heights Cemetery, Hardage-Giddens Holly Hill Memorial Park in Middleburg, and Orange Park’s Magnolia Cemetery, Jacksonville Memory Gardens and Moosehaven are pledging hundreds of wreaths to join in solidarity with the Wreaths Across America event on Dec. 16.

Tina Bullock, Volunteer Location Coordinator at the Keystone, took over last year after the passing of Lake Region legend Joan Jones, a gentle soul who died at age 95 in October.

Jones married Larry Jones, a Navy officer, and moved to Florida in 1990. She founded the Veterans Memorial Pathway at the cemetery.

“First of all, this is a way to honor our veterans who have been laid to rest. It helps our young people remember that these people have served and given their lives in service to the country,” Bullock said.

It is a special time for families of veterans. The program stipulates that a local volunteer can do the honors if a family member is absent. Often, it’s done by a child.

“That young man or young woman (will say) a prayer (for that veteran’s) service to the country and their family,” she said.

Keystone plans to lay 568 wreaths on gravesites. The ceremony will commemorate members of the military branches – U.S. Air Force, Marines, Navy, Army, Coast Guard and Space Force – as well as soldiers still missing or held as prisoners of war. The event will start at noon at 7304 State Road 100.

Opening remarks will be given, local school groups will perform patriotic songs, and Vietnam veterans will be given recognition, along with a keynote address by retired Marine and County Commission Chairman Gayward Hendry. Then, volunteers and family members will disperse the wreaths throughout the cemetery.

“They are beautiful, awesome live wreaths with a red bow,” Bullock said.

In Orange Park, an event is planned at the Veterans Memorial at Magnolia Cemetery. Mayor Randy Anderson will be a guest speaker and place the first wreath to honor Joseph Tarr Copeland, a Civil War Union Brigadier General. The event will start at noon at 1040 Kingsley Ave

Volunteers from several groups will place the wreaths, including Boy Scout Troop 25, Girl Scout Troop 31010, the Black Creek Young Marines and other patriotic residents. Volunteer Location Coordinator Sandra DiGiovanni said she doesn’t need any more volunteers to place the 175 wreaths.

DiGiovanni, who’s lived in Orange Park for 39 years, is also a Town’s Cemetery Board member.

“When you realize the significance, and the fact that residents (love) to remind people, ‘Hey, we’re a military town.’ It’s a special feeling,” DiGiovanni said.

“This ceremony (is special) because it honors the lives veterans lived, (not just) their sacrifice to the country. Just the life they lived while being in the military,” she said.

She said the town’s support has been overwhelming.

“I started raising money for (this event) in April. I had what I needed by July,” she said.

Money kept pouring in, even after the deadline, so her group donated wreaths to Jacksonville Memory Garden in Orange Park.

One of the largest programs in the state will be at Jacksonville Memory Gardens, 111 Blanding Blvd., in Orange Park. The program will start at 11:45 a.m., followed by laying more than 5,000 wreaths.

Another ceremony will be at Moosehaven, led by Vice Mayor Susana Thompson and Councilwoman Winnette Sandlin. They will be joined by Cub Scout Troop 25 and 20 Moosehaven residents. The event will start at noon at 1701 Park Ave.

And at noon, a fifth ceremony will be at Hardage-Giddens Holly Hill Memorial Park, 3601 Old Jennings Road in Middleburg.