CLAY COUNTY – County residents will take part in the nationally recognized Wreaths Across America wreath-laying in mid-December along with millions of people across the country to honor …
CLAY COUNTY – County residents will take part in the nationally recognized Wreaths Across America wreath-laying in mid-December along with millions of people across the country to honor veterans.
At noon on Dec. 18, the county will have three ceremonies: at Hardage-Giddens Holly Hill Memorial Park in Middleburg; Keystone Heights Memorial Gardens; and Jacksonville Memory Gardens in Orange Park. The three cemeteries have 7,200 graves of veterans between them, according to Wreaths Across America.
Wreaths Across America began in the early 1990s by a Maine wreath maker, Morrill Worcester. He had some extra wreaths in his possession, so he placed them at Arlington National Cemetery headstones in an older part of the cemetery each year. More than a decade later, pictures circulated online of the wreaths and thousands of people requested wreaths for similar ceremonies.
National Wreaths Across America Day is now celebrated by about 2,100 volunteer chapters and the organization estimates it has laid more than three million wreaths. Attendees are asked to say the name of the deceased veteran when they place the wreath. One of the taglines for the event is “Remember. Honor. Teach.” Tina Bullock, an organizer for the Keystone event, said it is important to include younger generations in Wreaths Across America. She thanked several youth organizations for their fundraising efforts.
“It teaches patriotism and I feel like it’s important for young people to remember these veterans, who in many cases, gave their lives,” Bullock said.
There are logistical challenges with coordinating a large event, but when people are dispersed to lay their wreaths, it’s a powerful moment. We had meetings to map it out. We’re making sure we’ve got everybody covered.”
The events usually have bagpipe players, a guest speaker and a representative from each service branch laying a wreath. Hardage-Giddens Holly Hill Memorial Park funeral assistant and U.S. Army veteran Jimmy Arthur Jr. said the event is a way to give back to the military community.
Arthur worked in the Army’s Mortuary Affairs division. He was involved with bringing heroes home, he said, and Wreaths Across America is another chance to remember them. He said every veteran should be honored, no matter the size of the cemetery.
“It’s a way for us to give back to those veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us in Clay County and the country,” he said. This is Hardage-Giddens’ second year participating in Wreaths Across America. After COVID-19 in 2020, Arthur expected a bigger turnout this year.
“This year, we’ll have wreaths for every location,” Arthur said. “It will give people the opportunity to say their names and honor veterans.”
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