More than 9,000 veterans interred in cemeteries across El Paso County will be commemorated by volunteers and community organizations in scaled-back wreath-laying ceremonies Saturday.
It is part of the annual National Wreaths Across America Day, which each December coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and at more than 2,100 locations nationwide, at sea and abroad.
Volunteers will lay wreaths at six cemeteries in El Paso County — 3,200 veteran graves in Evergreen Cemetery; 500 in Fairview Cemetery; 2,000 in Memorial Gardens Cemetery and Funeral Home; 125 in Monument Cemetery; 1,900 in Pikes Peak National Cemetery; and 1,350 at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery — in separate events that day.
Attendance will be limited at most of the cemeteries because of COVID-19 concerns, with some choosing to live-stream the wreath-laying on their websites.
“It reminds us that freedom is not free,” said Theresa Wiederspahn of Swan-Law Funeral Directors, location coordinator of Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Monument Cemetery and Pikes Peak National Cemetery. “These individuals fought for us. We don’t want our kids or our grandkids to forget how we got to where we are.”
The annual day of honor also allows for wider discussions with young people about warfare, said Kathy Carlson, president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7829 Auxiliary in Monument. The organization has hosted the annual event at Monument Cemetery for the last three years.
“As a young kid I remember seeing on TV all the fighting going on in Vietnam,” Carlson said. “Nowadays, unless we tell them, a lot of young people don’t know that we have a war going on now. Our group is very big on getting youth to understand that this is going on and to honor the (veterans and service members) who are doing this for our freedom.”
Wreaths Across America also allows the community to thank the spouses and families of those in the Armed Forces, whose sacrifices can also sometimes be forgotten, Wiederspahn said.
“What a better way to say thank you,” she said. “These veterans signed up to serve their country, whether they went to war or not.”
Though some people are disappointed they can’t attend a live ceremony this year, Wiederspahn said the message and intent of the day will remain the same, not eclipsed by the gloom of the pandemic.
“A lot of things have been overshadowed by the pandemic. Many people may be frustrated, but I believe next year we will be back to normal,” she said, highlighting the work of hundreds of volunteers working together this year to hold the wreath-laying events despite restrictions. “People still wanted feel-good stuff. You need that in the community.”
Wreaths Across America was founded as a nonprofit in 2007 to continue the work of Morrill Worcester, who owned a wreath company in Maine and in 1992 began donating excess Christmas wreaths to be laid on veteran graves in Arlington National Cemetery. Its mission is to remember, honor and teach about United States military servicemen and women who served their country.