BELINGTON - Despite winds, sleet and freezing temperatures, a couple dozen people gathered at the Belington Fraternal Cemetery at noon Saturday for the first annual Wreaths Across America ceremony.
In 1992, Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, realized that he had extra wreaths and was nearing the end of the holiday season. With the help of his state senator, arrangements were made to have the wreaths placed at the Arlington Cemetery, in an older section where there were fewer visitors.
He continued doing this every year until 2005, when a picture of the snowy graves, decorated with wreaths circulated the Internet, drawing national attention. Other cemeteries wanted to get involved and in 2008, Congress unanimously voted to declare Dec. 14 "Wreaths Across America Day."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Sara Harris
From left, Stephen Cross, Eugene Dolly, Lee Swartz, Ed Corey, Richard Marsh, Carl Ice and Dave Bennett line up in preparation to place wreaths.
Every year on the second or third Saturday in December, participating cemeteries across the United States gather to honor their veterans.
Belington resident Alesia Harris Jimenez Swartz wanted to see this ceremony close to home, so she made the proper contacts to get the special ceremony started. Swartz' son, R.J. Jimenez, was killed in action in November 2004, while serving in Iraq and is buried in the Belington Fraternal Cemetery.
Swartz wanted to do this to honor her son, as well as all veterans who have served our country.
Swartz thanked everyone for coming. Attendees said the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and observed a moment of silence to remember those who have fought for freedom.
American Legion Post 96 members were present for the ceremony. Post member Stephen Cross said it was a privilege to take part in this special ceremony.
"I am totally looking forward to accepting this wreath in honor of my dad, Bernard Cross, and any and all other veterans," he said.
There were seven wreaths donated from the Wreaths Across America organization, each wreath representing a division of the Armed Forces.
Stephen Cross presented a wreath on behalf of the Army followed by Eugene Dolly representing the Marines, Lee Swartz representing the Navy, Ed Corey with the Air Force, Richard Marsh representing the Coast Guard, Carl Ice with the Merchant Marines, and Dave Bennett representing POW-MIA in all branches and those currently serving.
Ralph Bumgardner thanked everyone for coming.
"We want you to understand the freedoms you enjoy today have not been free, but have come with a cost," he said.
Joyce Haller closed in prayer. "Taps" was presented by Eugene Dolly.
There were 10 additional wreaths donated by the Gold Star Mothers and 10 wreaths from an unknown donor. All wreaths were then placed on the grave of a veteran.
If you would like to donate a wreath in someone's memory, contact Alesia Swartz at 304-614-5019.
Additional information on donating wreaths or getting involved in having the ceremony at another cemetery, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.