The tradition of placing Christmas wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers and veterans started in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery. Wreaths Across America has grown to include cemeteries in all 50 states and more than 20 cemeteries overseas.
But this year, the program is experiencing a dramatic drop in donations at Arlington and other veterans’ cemeteries.
At the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, volunteers have gathered donations and sponsors for about 5,000 wreaths. Last year, they were able to lay 7,000 wreaths and had hoped to reach a goal of 10,000 wreaths for 2013.
“With the amount of people we had last year, we figured we could do 10,000,” said Randy Lewer, a veteran an one of three veterans who started the Bushnell wreaths program. “Unfortunately with the economy, it will fall quite short.”
Lewer and two other veterans, who loved to ride motorcycles together, started Wreaths Across America in 2006 at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell with only six wreaths.
“As long as you remember somebody up here, they’ll live forever,” veteran Jack Sellers said during an interview last year. “It’s when you forget them, or never come talk to them, never speak about them, is when they’re gone.”
Sellers died this year from tumors linked to Agent Orange. The third veteran Steve Leinwand also quit volunteering for health reasons.
So that left only Lewer to carry on. He’s arranged for several speakers including MacDill Air Force Base commander Col. Scott DeThomas. And several groups have volunteered to help lay the wreaths.
Volunteers will begin laying the wreaths at about 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14, 2013 at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. A ceremony will follow with speakers and the laying of a wreath in honor of POWs and MIAs.
Lewer credits community organizations, veterans groups and companies for helping sponsor the 5,000 wreaths. They’ve already placed the order, so additional contributions to the Bushnell wreaths program will go toward next year.
However, Lewer mentioned the Arlington National Cemetery is still accepting donations, $15 per wreath, until Dec. 11, 2013.
The Sarasota National Cemetery also is still accepting donations and is only 40 percent toward its goal.
The Bay Pines National Cemetery is only 1 percent toward its goal according to the Wreaths Across America website.
You can sponsor a wreath or checkout the cemeteries participating in the program at www.WreathsAcrossAmerica.org.
You can listen to Randy Lewer’s update on the Bushnell wreaths program on WUSF News.
Filed under: Memorials, Non-Profit Organizations, Veterans | Tagged: Arlington National Cemetery, Bay Pines National Cemetery, Florida National Cemetery, Sarasota National Cemetery, Wreaths Across America |