Fallen veterans honored

Published 9:34 pm Saturday, December 12, 2009

They all came for different reasons.

Some of the crowd at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery Saturday had family members buried in the cemetery, and wanted to place wreaths on their loved one’s grave themselves.

Some have relatives currently serving overseas, and came to recognize the contribution of the 2,665 people buried in the cemetery.

Others brought their children to the cemetery to teach them the value of the veterans’ service. Mothers and fathers could be heard giving their children impromptu history lessons on the wars displayed on veterans’ headstones.

Active-duty and retired military personnel from all branches came in droves — to honor their comrades, friends and brothers-in-arms.

Wreaths Across America and the Wreath Society sponsored the annual wreath-laying ceremony.

Georgette and Dean Bridger’s son, Capt. Aaron Raike, currently is stationed in Germany after his second tour in Iraq. He recently was awarded the Bronze Star, Georgette Bridger said.

“I think we have a sense of pride,” Bridger said, explaining why she and her husband were there.

Bridger took photos to send to her son, who was in the Boy Scouts while growing up.

“It’s pretty emotional because the Boy Scouts are over here,” Bridger said. “It’s kind of like a representation of his life growing up.”

Fredda Bryant and about 10 other members of the National Association of Black Military Women came to honor the veterans and thank those who gave them the opportunities they have had, Bryant said.

“There might be some ladies buried out here who paved the way for us,” Bryant said. “We want to honor those who have gone before us.”

The morning began when dozens of volunteers unloaded wreaths by the armful from a container truck and placed them on graves. Family members, including the Gold Star Mothers, a group of women who have lost a child in service of their country, placed wreaths on their loved ones’ graves.

Other groups, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Patriot Guard Riders, Blue Star Mothers (mothers of children currently serving or who have formerly served in the military) and others came out to honor the veterans.

After wreaths had been placed on all but the first row of graves, hundreds gathered at the cemetery’s committal shelter for a ceremony. Brig. Gen. Ed Dyer spoke of the bond members of the armed forces share.

“We use this bond as a source of inspiration,” Dyer said. “Once you experience it, you’ll never forget.”

After Dyer’s speech, the attendees moved from the committal shelter to the burial sites, where active-duty service members placed wreaths on the last graves as a bugler played “Taps.”

Julie Thompson brought her 7-year-old son, Jake, to the cemetery to learn more about the military. Jake’s father serves in the U.S. Navy, and Jake is fascinated with military history, Thompson said.

“We talk a lot about World War II,” Thompson said. “He’s very into all the history.”

Jeanne Banks, chair of the Wreath Society’s efforts, said the event went well. The society raised more than $15,000 to pay for the fresh wreaths with simple red bows that went on each grave.

“I’m so happy, I could be buried right now,” Banks said. “It’s beautiful.”