Veterans’ sacrifices remembered with ceremony

By STEVEN CALHOUN/Staff Writer

The 8th Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony was held at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo on Dec. 17 at 11 a.m.

The event was held on National Wreaths Across America Day. Each year in December, people across the country honor veterans by placing wreaths at their graves.

At the Alabama National Cemetery, attendees placed 4,325 wreaths in honor of fallen veterans. Many attendees had family members in the cemetery, and they laid their wreaths first. Then, the rest of the attendees placed wreaths on the remaining graves.

“My dad is buried here. He served in the Vietnam War,” said Diann Kearly, an attendee. “This is special because it keeps him in our hearts. This is the first year I’ve come with my son, which is his first grandson on my side … for me and my kids it means a lot because we can share it with our little baby.”

Days of work by hundreds of volunteers went into the preparation of the ceremony. Veterans and their patriotic peers showed up in the cold on Dec. 15, unloaded the wreaths from the delivery truck and neatly stacked them aside after inspection.

“My dad is buried here, so I have a family connection to this cemetery,” Squadron Commander Bobby Newsome of the Bessemer Civil Air Patrol said. “The other reason [I do this] is to honor those who have served and who have given their lives. I’m not a veteran, but this is my way of serving my country and those who have served my country.”

On Dec. 16, Mike Sudd was helping prepare the Avenue of Flags and shared why he volunteers.

“My wife and I were both veterans. I [served] in Vietnam in 1964 and ‘65. She was a communications specialist and we got married in 1964 and [were] married 49 years,” Sudd said. “Unfortunately, she passed away in May 2013 from multiple sclerosis. She’s out here at the national cemetery … so I’ve been doing this as a volunteer and support group since the end of 2013 … and I will be out here tomorrow putting a wreath up for my wife.”

The wreaths placed during the ceremony will remain at the graves through the middle of January, according to Bob Barefield, chairman of the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery. Volunteers will make sure the wreaths remain in good condition and will place wreathes on any new graves made during that period.

Sponsors purchase the wreaths for the ceremony. Many sponsors are veterans’ organizations, military auxiliaries and other veterans who wish to give. Other sponsors are businesses and citizens who wish to show support for veterans.

The Blue Star Foundation, Bessemer Civil Air Patrol and the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery expressed their gratitude to the financial supporters and the many volunteers who aided in preparing for the ceremony.

“We wouldn’t have the freedom that we have if it weren’t for our veterans,” Barefield said. “If we don’t continue to pay tribute to our veterans and make sure that our youth understand why we have these freedoms, then we’re going to lose them. It’s the honorable thing to do.”

Shelby County Reporter staff photographer Keith McCoy contributed to this story.