Families gather to honor veterans with a Wreath Laying Ceremony

Published 5:14 pm Tuesday, December 20, 2022

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Local families, veterans and officials gathered on a chilly Saturday morning to honor lost loved ones who served the nation during the annual Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery wreath laying ceremony.

Organized by the Horton Wreath Society and the Virginia Department of Veteran Services, the Dec. 17 program was the first public event held there since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Along with appearances by Mayor Michael Duman and Rep.-Elect Jen Kiggans, speakers included Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, Hampton native, author and former Navy SEAL Lieutenant Jason Redman, and Horton Wreath Society President and Retired Chief Michael Yarbrough. WVEC-TV ABC13 anchor/reporter Mike Gooding served as Master of Ceremonies during the event. After the ceremony, families laid wreaths on the graves of their fallen loved ones.

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Yarbrough noted the VIPs who attended and recognized the five Gold Star family members who lost children in the line of duty.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had an actual ceremony, it’s been three years,” Yarbrough said. “A couple bugs, but we’re working things out and we’ll improve each and every year.”

Yarbrough pointed to the importance of the event for the families, while acknowledging the ones who are unable to come out and attend the ceremony.

“It’s really meaningful for the family members, especially the ones that are coming back. Some folks can’t visit, but the family members that want to come here and place their own wreath, we take care of them especially,” he said. “There’ll come a time where we may not be able to purchase enough wreaths for every burial site, but we will alway take care of the registered family members.”

This year, Yarbrough said organizers doubled the registration where 850 family members signed up to make sure that they could come out personally and put their wreath out on their loved one’s burial site.

“Now of course, there’s many more,” he said. “So the rest of the volunteers are putting down the rest, it’s around 12,650 that they’re doing today.”

Yarbrough said in the next year there will likely be another 800 to 1,000 burials at the Horton Cemetery.

“It grows each year and of course, I have to earn as much money as I can to purchase each wreath,” he said. “We made our goal, so hopefully next year I’ll make my goal again so I can have a wreath at each and every burial site.”

Yarbrough explained how citizens can support the Horton Wreath Society by mailing a donation to the organization via snail mail. He said more information can be found on hortonwreathsociety.org

“We have information on there where you can mail in a check if you like to donate towards us. We’re a nonprofit, so 96% of the money goes specifically for purchasing the wreathes each and every year,” Yarbrough said.

He said they are working with PayPal to add a method of donating to the fund electronically.

“We’re still in the stone-age, but we’re going to try to move into the 21st Century and get that done as well,” Yarbrough said. “So that’s where we’re headed.”