American Gold Star Mother Sheron Jones stood at the podium. Before her a crowd of volunteers nestled under the shelter of the blue tent. Eastward, a lone rider carrying a flag honoring Sheron’s son, galloped into the arena. The Sons of the American Revolution marched behind the Air Force color guard across the dirt parking lot.
As the flags were posted a musket salute sounded across the field and Sheron turned to salute. A young man from Raven Moore Troop 339 BSA stepped to the podium to lead the Pledge of Allegiance. Mark Thomas, CW3 (ret.) provided a cappella rendition of our National Anthem. Throughout two dozen Patriot Riders stood holding American Flags.
Thus began the annual ceremony of Wreaths Across America at the Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson on Saturday, December 12, 2015. For a second year SaddleBrooke Ranch residents traveled under the threat of rain and cloudy skies to volunteer for this somber event. This year nearly 40 residents made the effort and reaped the rewards.
Returning Troopers recruited friends and neighbors more than doubling attendance from last year. With the help of Facebook postings and emails generated from the SBR Robson staff, Kay Lantow and Linda Nicholson helped coordinate the outreach and fundraising, aiding an increased number of living wreaths for the veterans’ graves. More than 5,000 veterans’ graves exist in southern Arizona. This year fundraising provided 990 wreaths, an increase from last year’s 600.
Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine, first provided Christmas Wreaths for the graves of veterans at Arlington Cemetery in 1992. Responding to thousands of emails and letters, Worcester expanded wreath donations nationwide. Assisted by the Civil Air Patrol and other volunteers, ceremonies were held at 230 locations from Alaska to Iraq.
By early 2007, with so many requests, the Worcesters reached out to the community for help, forming the nonprofit group Wreaths Across America. Mr. Worcester doubled his yearly pledge at Arlington (10,000 wreaths), continuing to send 2,500 wreaths to local communities to place on veterans’ graves.
By 2013, with the help of thousands of individual and corporate sponsors, 540,000 wreaths were donated and placed at over 900 participating locations.
Next year Kay and Linda, with the help of current and future volunteers, hope to more than double the donations to our Tucson veterans and increase the allocation of these beautiful living wreaths.
As American Legion Auxiliary representative Onita Davis of Oro Valley read the story of “What is a Veteran Wreath,” newly minted SBR Troopers began to understand the purpose for the day’s events. Watching the retirement of the colors while listening to CMSgt Jose Barraza play Taps, some bowed their heads while others covered their heart or offered a crisp salute.
Dressed in Scottish attire, William Don Carlos played Amazing Grace on his bagpipes, leading us forward like the Pied Piper while Sheron sent us out for the laying of the wreaths. Carefully carrying and then placing these living wreaths on the veterans grave, each volunteer read the veterans’ name and gave thanks for their service and sacrifice.