‘There’s a story behind every stone’: Wreaths Across America Day honors veterans

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Thousands of veterans who are buried in El Paso County will be remembered during a special ceremony Dec. 14.

Wreaths Across America started in 1992 in Maine when a local family that made wreaths had some left over. They took those extra wreaths and laid them on the gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.

Now, thousands of cemeteries across the country lay wreaths to remember their veterans.

In El Paso County, cemeteries like Evergreen have been participating in Wreaths Across America Day for the past three years.

“We have veterans here from the Civil War all the way through current conflicts today,” said David Carr, Evergreen’s event coordinator. “The idea that a nation would remember those veterans and the sacrifice that they have given of their time, of their lives in the defense of our country, it’s important that as a nation, we remember that sacrifice.”

Carr said there are a little more than 3,200 veterans buried at Evergreen Cemetery and about 8,000 in El Paso County.

“The idea behind Wreaths Across America is that as we place a wreath at those headstones, we say their name just one more time, and the idea being that so long as their names are remembered, they will never be forgotten,” Carr said.

He said it’s important to remember each and every veteran.

“We have families that are local, but with today’s society, families don’t typically stay in one place anymore,” Carr said. “So there may be families that are scattered across the globe who are wondering whether or not their loved one will be remembered, and so the drive of this effort is to ensure that they’re all remembered no matter where they are. No matter whether they have family that’s still living or if their families have long been gone from here.”

Each wreath costs $15 and will be shipped more than 2,000 miles from Maine. The deadline to sponsor a wreath was Monday, but Carr said El Paso County still needs more than 2,000 wreaths.

“Wreaths Across America HQ is indicating that they will try and keep pushing more wreaths out to the locations even if the purchase comes in after today -- but no guarantees,” Carr wrote in an email Monday. “(If) someone does donate later this week, worst-case scenario is that the donation goes towards next year's count.”

Carr said it’s hard knowing not every grave will get a wreath.

“Unfortunately, we’ll have to make the tough decision of which sections we’re going to have to pass over this year but with the promise that we would go to those sections next year to remember those veterans,” he said.

Not only do the cemeteries need wreaths, they also need volunteers to help lay those wreaths.

“There is nothing more thrilling than coming here and placing a wreath at the headstone of a veteran, saying their name, thanking them for their service,” Carr said. “You’ll just never have a better experience in their life.”

Carr said he needs around 200-300 volunteers to help unload the wreaths, distribute them across the cemetery and lay them on the graves on Dec. 14. He’ll also need help on Jan. 18 to pick up and discard the wreaths.

“I think the most interesting experience a volunteer can have is when they contemplate that person. Some of those headstones will have more information. They’ll tell you which conflicts they may have served in. They’ll tell you if there were various medals and honors that they were awarded,” Carr said. “There’s a story behind every stone, and I think that’s the key is that in this day and age, it’s amazing that if you take that name and plug it into Google, you may find an entire life story that is represented in that headstone.”

People can sign up to volunteer online by searching for a cemetery near them. They’re encouraged to arrive at Evergreen Cemetery by 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14 so they can get their wreath assignment before a short ceremony at 10 a.m.

“To me, and to those that come out, I think that’s the special part is to know that that person lived a life in defense of their country, and the experiences they had, their struggles. They were human just like us, and the fact that we will remember them hopefully for years into the future makes a difference in the lives of everyone who was involved,” Carr said.