Local Wreaths Across America ceremony sees ‘phenomenal’ turnout

Published 12:04 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2018


MONTEVALLO – Thousands of people attended a wreath-laying ceremony honoring servicemen and women at the Alabama National Cemetery on the morning of Dec. 15.

Rain paused long enough for a 30-minute ceremony to take place before families and volunteers were dismissed to lay nearly 6,000 live balsam wreaths at veterans’ graves as part of the annual Wreaths Across America event.

“It was perfect,” Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery Chairwoman Pam Nichols said of this year’s ceremony. “Capt. (Gary Michael) Rose did a beautiful job with his remarks. It meant so much to the families here.”

2018 Master of Ceremonies Janice Rogers, WBRC Fox 6 news anchor and the sister of U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran James Alvin Rogers, opened the ceremony.

Duke Martin, 2nd vice chair of the Support Committee for the ALNC, gave the invocation.

The Bessemer Civil Air Patrol Color Guard presented the colors and escorted wreath layers.

USAF veteran Kathryn Lunsford performed the National Anthem.

Cadet 2nd Lt. Aaron Bell led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rose, a retired U.S. Army veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, was the keynote speaker.

Lela Brown gave a special musical tribute.

The U.S. Military Team performed a rifle salute.

Jim Quakenbush with Bugles Across America performed Taps.

Bagpiper Jeff Jones played “Amazing Grace” as he led family members with loved ones buried in the cemetery down the hill to begin the wreath laying.

Nichols said an estimated 3,000 volunteers helped with this year’s event at the Alabama National Cemetery, adding, “The crowd here today was phenomenal.”

“When you see this many people come out to help and volunteer, how can you not consider yourself blessed?” Support Committee for the ALNC Overlook Fundraising officer Nancy Barefield said. “It’s an honor and blessing to be here.”

About 1,500 more wreaths were needed for this year’s ceremony compared to 2017 because of the cemetery’s rapid growth, Nichols said.

The Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery, with the support of the Civil Air Patrol and Blue Star Salute Foundation, has planned and coordinated the ceremony since the cemetery opened in 2008.

The holiday wreaths symbolize honor to all of the men and women who have served and are serving in the armed forces, and to their families who also endure sacrifices.

The Wreaths Across America ceremony originated from a 1992 tribute in which the Worchester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, donated its surplus of holiday wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery to be placed in one of the older sections of the cemetery.

In 2005, the annual tribute gained national attention when a photo of the headstones at Arlington adorned with wreaths circulated.

The next year, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies were held at more than 300 locations around the country.

The U.S. Congress unanimously voted that Dec. 13, 2008, would be “Wreaths Across America Day,” and ceremonies were held in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries.