December 13, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 34

Wreaths ceremony honors veterans, educates students

Honoring veterans during the holidays returns for a third year at the Veterans Cemetery.

file photo
A member of the Patriot Guard Riders kneels at a headstone at the Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake during last year’s Wreaths Across America event.

The state cemetery is once again the site of the Spokane area Wreaths Across America program Saturday, Dec. 15 at noon.

The event’s organizer, Julie Pittmann, said around 140,000 wreaths will be placed at veterans’ headstones at 800 cemeteries in 50 states and other territories. Of those, 500 will be placed by volunteers at headstones at the Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake. Wreaths are also placed in holders on the columbarium wall.

“Cemeteries all across the country all have the same thing,” Pittmann said.

Donations were made earlier in the year to purchase wreaths, with the final 81 coming in last Monday. Several local groups volunteer their time to place them at the cemetery, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Veterans of Foreign Wars, military spouses, Patriot Guard Riders and many others.

Several wreaths will also be part of the main ceremony, including the national and the POW/MIA wreaths.

“They stopped what they were doing,” she said. “They were willing to go sign on a dotted line that they were willing to protect this country with full intent on coming home, and they weren’t able to do that.”

When the bagpipes begin to play, the ceremony truly begins to hit home for those in attendance. For Pittmann, “Amazing Grace” has a special meaning.

“When I hear ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found,’ that always hits home to me. We’re remembering that they paid such an ultimate price, and we’re honoring that,” she said.

The nationwide program has three main goals: remember, honor and teach. With many military families in the area, at Eastern Washington University and the JROTC group at Medical Lake High School, the third component of education receives some extra attention.

“I think they realized that there was something going on that was important to them,” Pittmann said. “This meant something.”

Programs are available throughout the year to visit schools across the country and explain the program’s significance.

“No I don’t want to be the richest man or woman in the world, but yes, I do want to serve this country,” she said. “Our students aren’t hearing that every day.”

Wreaths Across America began in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, growing into the widespread program it is today. Local individuals or groups step up to sponsor the event for their area, and ask the cemetery to include it in their list of events.

Volunteers work hard throughout the year to make the event a success, taking time to spread the word about it. As a result the Wreaths Across America event continues to grow year after year, and is poised for another successful event this Saturday.

“These ladies and gents are wonderful at getting the word out,” Pittmann said.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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