There is something both sad and joyous about seeing wreaths leaning against the marble headstones of service members buried at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo.
Dec. 15 marked the 10th year that Wreaths Across America was held at the cemetery, which was one of more than 1,400 locations in the U.S., at sea and around the world to participate in the holiday remembrance, including Arlington National Cemetery.
At the Alabama National Cemetery, family members of the more than 6,000 service members interred there were joined by volunteers for a ceremony honoring them. Family members and volunteers then went to the gravesites to place wreaths on all of the markers.
“To their families, this means the world to them,” said Pam Nichols, chairman of the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery. “I had a couple of gold star mothers tell me when they come out here and all of the crowd is with them and laying wreaths that it makes them feel like they’re still celebrating Christmas with their loved one. So, that makes it very special.”
Janice Rogers of WBRC-Fox 6 was the master of ceremonies and Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Gary Michael Rose delivered the keynote address at the Alabama National Cemetery Wreaths Across America ceremony this year.
The volunteers showed up in abundance this year. Nichols said although there is great turnout for other events throughout the year, Wreaths Across America is the most supported at the cemetery.
“The community actually rallies behind us for this ceremony in greater numbers than anything we do all year,” she said. “The holiday season makes it a special time. Everyone is in a giving mood and wants to pour out their love for the family members in particular that are left behind. We want them to know that they’re special to us and we recognize and appreciate the sacrifice that they’ve made.”
American Legion posts, Civil Air Patrol squadrons, Scout troops, church groups, school organizations, corporate volunteer groups and others were among those participating in the Alabama Wreaths Across America event.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey began a weeklong Wreaths Across America commemoration on Dec. 10 by laying a wreath on the Fallen Heroes Memorial at the state capitol.
The wreaths at the Alabama National Cemetery will remain there through the holiday season and be removed in January.
Wreaths Across America has its roots with a tribute in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, donated its surplus wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. In 2005, a photo of the headstones adorned with wreaths brought national attention and the practice spread to other locations.
“It has spread tremendously over the years,” Nichols said. “There are actually sites in and around Birmingham where there are veterans laid to rest and they have picked up this ceremony as well. It’s a great way to remember and celebrate these heroes and their families in the holiday season.”
At the Alabama National Cemetery, the support committee and the Bessemer Civil Air Patrol Composite Squadron are the leading organizers along with the Blue Star Salute Foundation. Individuals, organizations and corporations sponsor the wreaths.
Despite an overcast, chilly day, the support at last Saturday’s event was impressive.
“We’ve had so many volunteers that we were even running out of things for them to do,” Nichols said. “We had youth groups as large as 100 strong that came out to help us today. It was a great day in that regard.”