The turnout for the first Wreaths Across America Day ceremony to remember and honor fallen veterans at Calvary Cemetery may have been a bit meager, but the heartfelt emotions displayed by those present were a sincere tribute to the men and women who served the country.
The ceremony began at 9 a.m. sharp Saturday in order to be coordinated with similar ceremonies being held across the nation. An honor guard made up of members of VFW Post 9242 and American Legion Post 69 conducted a flag ceremony and then each member carried a wreath representing each of the services and one for more than 93,000 service members last listed as either missing in action or prisoners of war.
“Wreaths Across America started with Arlington National Cemetery to place a wreath in front of each veteran there,” said Juli Vieira, president and CEO of the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, which sponsored the ceremony. “It has spread across the country. The wreaths are made by veterans and shipped from Maine. We decided we needed to do it within San Benito County and that’s why the chamber started it this year. The wreaths are purchased by family members, community members and businesses.”
There were 155 wreaths that were purchased by individuals or businesses. Vieira said the wreaths cost $15 each and donations will be taken throughout the remainder of 2015 and through 2016 to purchase wreaths for next year’s ceremony, which will be held the second Saturday of December.
During the ceremony, Vieira welcomed those attending and read from a prepared statement. She spoke of the reasons for the ceremony and recognized the veterans present. She also read a quote from President Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Members of the color guard then picked up a wreath for each service, including: George Nava carried the wreath for the U.S. Army; Ron Sanchez for the U.S. Marines; Paul Arballo for the U.S. Navy; Mike Pulido for the U.S. Air Force; Dick Gallagher for the U.S. Coast Guard; Ray Friend for the U.S. Merchant Marines; and David Lopez for the MIA and POWs.
After the ceremony, the color guard and those attending laid wreaths at the headstones of veterans.