Teaching generations: PCS students lay wreaths on fallen soldiers’ graves

MONTEVALLO – More than 100 student athletes from Pelham High and Riverchase Middle schools helped lay wreaths on the tombstones of more than 4,000 fallen service men and woman during the eighth annual Wreaths Across America event at the Alabama National Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 17.

The wreath laying ceremony was the culmination of a weeklong celebration of veterans throughout America.

Saturday marked the second year that the school system’s athletic department has participated in the event. Athletic Director Kim Kiel said instilling values of community service, being helpful and showing kindness to others are among the athletic department’s main goals.

PHS baseball players arrived at the 470-acre national cemetery at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday to help unload wreaths from 18-wheelers and more students arrived prior to the ceremony, which started at 11 a.m.

“For us it’s about serving our community and teaching our kids about the sacrifices others have made for our freedom,” Kiel said. “For a lot of the kids, they don’t know that this event takes place every year and it really opens their eyes to the sacrifices of others. I’m proud of our kids because this is something that they want to do – we can’t require them to participate.”

Kiel said she’s also proud of PCS coaches for doing a good job of providing students with opportunities to give back to their community.

Baseball coach Sean Anderson said volunteering to help lay wreaths at the ceremony was at the recommendation of a parent, retired Navy commander Alan Phillips, whose son was a PHS baseball player. When Phillips made the suggestion, Anderson said he immediately thought it was a great idea.

Not only do student athletes attend the event, but most of their parents attend also, Anderson said.

“We get a lot of positive feedback from parents who say their children talk about the experience at home afterward,” Kiel said.

Phillips added that most parents who attend get just as much out of the experience as the students do.

The first year the athletic department volunteered, Kiel said 60-70 students showed up, but this year about 110 kids attended.

At this year’s event, there was standing room only, and the Pelham students were among hundreds who listened as keynote speaker Chaplain Maj. Gen. Doug Carver, former U.S. Army Chief of Chaplain, urged everyone to never “forget the sacred sacrifice that forges hope, freedom and peace.”

After all that’s what the wreath laying ceremony is all about – remembering the fallen, honoring those who serve and teaching younger generations about the value of freedom.

Since World War II, Carver said there are more than 90,000 POW/MIA who have never been found.

“Let’s remember the families of the fallen,” he said. “Those who kept the candle light burning, hoping for a safe return. Many have endured the carnage of war so we can enjoy freedom – so that we can go to the mall and shop for Christmas gifts; so that we can route for Auburn or Alabama, or Tennessee.”

On Saturday, the Alabama National Cemetery was one of more than 1,100 sites that laid wreaths in the U.S. Before the crowd dispersed to lay the wreaths, Carver asked everyone to write down some of the names on the tombstones and research that person to find out who they were.