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Military Traditions

April 3, 2018 By Shirley Arnold

Wreaths Across America

The postcard arrived unexpectedly one winter day. A printed message thanked us for our donation and invited us to attend the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery (SVNC) Saturday morning, December 16. As part of the ceremony, we’d get to assist in placing wreaths at each gravesite in tribute to our Fallen. The date immediately became a priority in our house.

Having visited our son’s resting place at Christmas for the past two years, impressed by the sight of thousands of identical wreaths at each marker, we wondered who did it and how that was done so beautifully. Now we would find out and take part.

We left PVE an hour early for the 9 a.m. ceremony, on a sunny day, with a 20–30 mph wind advisory. Exiting I-80, our car was the latest of hundreds crawling along Midway Road to the SVNC entrance. All was calm, all was bright, as the carol goes. The slow-moving chain was of common purpose and respectful of each other. Dozens of volunteers and police efficiently directed traffic to parking areas.

We walked to the ceremonial plaza as the USAF Band of the Golden West’s talented soprano sang the Star Spangled Banner. Hundreds of folding chairs skirted the dais. Hundreds more of us stood and listened to the presenters representing SVNC Support Committee, American Legion, Sons of the American Revolution, and RememberAVet.net, a Vacaville organization that raises money for the event. From them, we learned that the local project began 12 years ago with 300 wreaths and 12 volunteers. Not a single tax dollar is used; funding comes entirely from private donations. Others contribute by driving trucks to Oregon to pick up the wreaths.

I saw that at least a thousand volunteers had responded to the call this year and was astonished at the response this organization has achieved.

We all sang God Bless America (I can never finish because of tearing up). Symbolic wreaths placed below the flagpole honored the five branches of America’s uniformed services, the Merchant Marines and our MIA/Prisoners of War. After the 21-gun salute by the Honor Guard we followed instructions to go to any gravesite area where we would find large cartons of wreaths. We were to take two and place them, come back for two more, and continue as long as we were able and willing.

In an amazingly short time, 18,000 wreaths were precisely placed and hundreds of cars slowly proceeded out of the 561-acre site. It was a morning I shall never forget — moving and miraculous, unifying and inspiring. Yes, God Bless America.

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