Wreaths for fallen warriors
By Wendy Joan Biddlecombe | Hernando TodayBUSHNELL - Just past 10 on Saturday morning, a convoy of Walmart tractor trailers pulled into the Florida National Cemetery. Packed inside as cargo were 7,000 balsam fir wreaths and thousands of men, women and children gathered to place the memorials on the graves of both loved ones and strangers.
Published: December 16, 2012
Published: December 16, 2012
"These are my brothers and sisters out here," said Kathleen Carter, who served in the Women's Army Corps from 1964-67. Carter, who wears a white jacket embroidered with three gold stars and "Women Veterans" on the back, is a member of Tri-County Women Veterans. Many of the women live in The Villages and surrounding communities.
Fran Antal, another member, explains the group started as a social gathering, with women meeting once a month to lunch.
"But some things in the world are rotten, and we wanted to do something about it," said Antal, explaining the vets volunteer with the Wounded Warrior Project, assist the homeless and help out at the Fisher House, which provides shelter for the families of service men and women receiving treatment in Tampa.
The Tri-County Women Veterans was just one of many veterans groups to attend the wreath-laying ceremony, as well as motorcycle clubs, Boy and Girl scout troops, Junior Marines and ROTC cadets.
"I woke up at 5 a.m. excited for the day," said James Smith, general transportation manager for Walmart and an Army veteran himself. The ceremony was co-sponsored by Wreaths Across America, Walmart and the U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club, and coincided with similar events at national cemeteries across the country, including Arlington National Cemetery.
"We're here to honor American veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice," Smith said.
The Bushnell tradition started in 2006, with seven ceremonial wreaths, and the tradition has grown rapidly every year with thousands of wreaths placed the past few years.
Saturday, not long after the morning fog cleared, orderly lines formed behind each truck. Some participants waited more than an hour to be among the first to receive a wreath. With wreaths in hand, individuals and families walked through the rows of white tombstones. Young scouts read the name of the soldier before laying the wreath, one pronouncing "Cor-a" for Korea before saluting. Men and women in leather jackets and chaps kneel, and spend a somber moment at a gravesite. Other stones saw more activity, with photo memorials, fresh flowers and other mementos to remember fallen men and women in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"PFC means this soldier was a private first class," a mother explained to her young children. "That means he didn't serve very long before he died."
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