It was a year ago when Garner resident Sabreina Johnson stood at the Raleigh National Cemetery for National Wreaths Across America Day – a movement to cover all veterans’ grave markers with a Christmas wreath – and noticed that more than half of them were bare.
“I actually watched a lady walk through wreaths to get to her loved one’s grave that did not have a wreath,” she said. “It just touched me so much. I could not imagine walking through all those graves with wreaths just to get to your loved one’s grave and there not be one.”
It was at that moment that Johnson decided to take over the event at the Raleigh National Cemetery. And on Saturday, her dream to see all 5,400 graves covered with a wreath came true, thanks to an anonymous donor that paid for more than 1,500 of them.
The all-veteran cemetery off Rock Quarry Road was one of about 1,000 locations where volunteers laid wreaths on the graves in honor of those who served in the military.
“I think it’s important, especially around the holiday, just to remember that freedom isn’t free,” said Johnson, the daughter and wife of retired U.S. Army soldiers. “There’s a lot of families that are not going to have loved ones at the table this year or years to come because of the sacrifice that they paid for us to be free.”
This year, 18 local groups, including the Cleveland High School JROTC and the American Legion Riders Post 436, sold nearly 3,900 wreaths for $15 each to make Saturday’s wreath laying and remembrance ceremony a success. The JROTC also hosted the event, presented the colors and helped the other fundraising groups distribute wreaths.
Carol Ann Redfield, senior Army instructor for the JROTC, said seeing graves without wreaths the last few years really moved the students to sell more this year. She said she believed it was the student and community support for the project that encouraged the anonymous donor to help.
We encouraged everyone to not just place a wreath on a veteran’s grave but to actually stop and say that veteran’s name and pay respect for that time of service and the sacrifice that they made.
As each wreath was laid on the graves Saturday morning, Johnson encouraged volunteers to speak the name etched on each headstone in support of this year’s theme “Say Their Names.”
“We encouraged everyone to not just place a wreath on a veteran’s grave but to actually stop and say that veteran’s name and pay respect for that time of service and the sacrifice that they made,” she said.
One of the soldiers whose name was spoken aloud was Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class William Maud Bryant, who died in Vietnam in 1969.
“To be sure, not all resting here died in battle, but all who rest here certainly served and for that we should be forever grateful,” said retired U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, who spoke at the event.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon