Tens of thousands of volunteers laid wreaths at VA national cemeteries across the U.S. as part of National Wreaths Across America Day, on Dec. 14.
Each December, Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,600 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the activities.
Raleigh National Cemetery, North Carolina
Hundreds of volunteers showed up at Raleigh National Cemetery, including the Cleveland High School Army Junior ROTC from Garner, North Carolina. Various Scouts from Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts units laid wreaths, including more than 50 Scouts and dozens of adult leaders.
Following the wreath laying, retired Army Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag spoke. Sonntag recently retired as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
“Today, we stand amongst those who answered that call, many of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation,” Sonntag said. “Through this time-honored tradition of laying wreaths, we proudly say, ‘Thank you,’ to all of our brothers and sisters interred here in this hallowed ground and let them know that we will never forget.”
He told the crowd about Army Sgt. 1st Class William Bryant, a Medal of Honor recipient from Vietnam interred at Raleigh. Bryant’s battalion came under heavy fire and became surrounded by the elements of three enemy regiments. Through the next 34 hours, Bryant repeatedly showed heroism running through gunfire to retrieve ammunition, overrunning an enemy automatic weapons position and calling for helicopter support.
Bryant Hall, the headquarters for the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, is named for the Medal of Honor recipient.
Houston National Cemetery, Texas
Sortillo landed at Inchon and pushed north to join U.S. Marines and British Royal Marines. Captured Nov. 30, 1950, Sortillo spent 31 months as a prisoner of war. Sortillo spent his 17th, 18th and 19th birthdays as a POW.
After his release, he went on to serve with special forces in Vietnam and in the DMZ in Korea.
Navy Veteran and U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw also attended the event. The Kingwood High School Junior ROTC presented the colors, the First Cavalry Division Lone Star Brass provided music and American Heritage Girls Texas 1325 led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Massachusetts National Cemetery
In New England, more than a thousand volunteers placed wreaths on the graves of service members at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod.
Wreaths Across America held a ceremony at noon across from the main flagpole at the cemetery. Volunteers included school children and area Veteran groups who braved heavy rain to remember and honor the Veterans through the laying of remembrance wreaths, saying the name of each Veteran aloud.
“The wreaths symbolize everlasting life,” said Richard Wallace, director of the Massachusetts National Cemetery and a retired Air Force chief master sergeant. “It’s our sacred mission to ensure our Veterans will always be remembered.”
Organizers said volunteers laid more than 10,000 wreaths at Bourne.
Gold Star sister Mary Lou McCarthy was the guest speaker. She memorialized her brother, Army Sgt. Maj. Kevin Walsh.
Volunteers also included staff from the Cape Cod Vet Center and from the VA Boston Healthcare System.
Wreaths Across America was founded by Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, of Harrington, Maine.
All total, there were more than a dozen Wreaths Across America ceremonies in New England.
John Paradis, a senior editor and writer for VA New England Healthcare System, and Jose Henriquez, administrative officer at Houston National Cemetery, provided reporting.