3,000 wreaths laid at cemetery

Published 8:20 pm Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cadet 2nd Lt. Stephen Palmer and Cadet Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lamb salute after placing a wreath at the final resting place of a U.S. veteran on Saturday at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery.

A “labor of love” came together under gray and threatening skies Saturday morning, as scores of volunteers turned out to the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery to help lay wreaths and honor departed veterans.

The annual Wreaths Across America ceremony, sponsored locally by the Horton Wreath Society, culminated with the placement of special wreaths representing each branch of the service.

But the transformation of the cemetery by the placement of more than 3,000 wreaths at headstones, grave markers and columbaria all over the active part of the cemetery is the image that many will remember.

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And the help they received in acquiring the wreaths and placing them throughout the cemetery made this year special to members of the Wreath Society, according to Jeanne Banks, one of the leaders of that organization.

“Everybody brought somebody, it looks like,” she said as she looked out across the fields full of veterans, active-duty service members, Blue Star mothers, motorcycle club members, ROTC and Civil Air Patrol cadets, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Rotarians and other interested civilians — all with arms full of wreaths.

“When [my husband] retired, I said I wanted to do something important,” Banks said.

Her participation in the Wreaths Across America project has been one way of fulfilling that goal, she said.

The program started at Arlington National Cemetery, where Worcester Wreath Co. of Worcester, Maine, began donating green wreaths with simple red bows. Today, the company donates a wreath for each service and one for POW/MIA veterans at each of the nation’s veterans’ cemeteries.

In Suffolk, the Horton Wreath Society was formed to help raise money and support for placing similar wreaths on every grave. The organization also plans and conducts a ceremony during to honor veterans.

The idea, according to the group’s mission statement, is “To remember, honor and teach: Remember the fallen; honor those who serve; teach our children the value of freedom.”

“I grew up in downtown Portsmouth,” Banks said. “As a little girl, I remember seeing the sailors on the street, and I knew that if nothing else, they were away from their families.”

As she grew older, she said, she began to understand the true measure of sacrifice that America’s veterans made for their nation.

Suffolk’s annual wreath ceremony is one of the ways she and others can honor that sacrifice.

“It’s a very inspiring morning,” she said last week. “This is a very simple way to show our appreciation. Even if someone has never lost a close relative in the military, they can still appreciate what others have done.”

The organization collects donations all year long to put toward the purchase of the wreaths. To contribute, send a check to The Wreath Society, care of SunTrust Bank, 123 Main St., Suffolk, VA 23434.