• Wreaths Across America is a volunteer-led event to honor the service of veterans at cemeteries throughout the U.S., at sea and abroad. The wreaths shown above at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton will remain in place through approximately Jan. 10. (Photo by Billy McGraw)
  • A long line of motorcycles ridden by volunteers who placed the wreaths on individual graves Dec. 16.  (Reuben Baumgardner of the Patriot Guard Riders)

‘Wreaths Across America’ on display at Georgia National Cemetery

A few weeks ago on Dec. 16, my phone chimed to alert me that I had a new message. It was my old friend, Billy McGraw, sending a photo of my mom’s grave at the Georgia National Cemetery. It was adorned with a beautiful Christmas wreath.

Next came a photo of a broad shot of the cemetery. Every headstone was decorated with a wreath.

Tears stung my eyes as I took in the awesome sight.

He informed me that it was “Wreaths Across America Day” and that over 11,500 wreaths were laid on veterans’ graves that day.

McGraw is a member of the local Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) of Georgia. I have seen many Facebook posts of his participation in PGR escorts to veteran funerals at the Georgia National Cemetery.

Each time I have been impressed by the long line of motorcycles. All ridden by volunteers. All with one thing in common — an unwavering respect for the veterans who risk their very lives for America’s freedom and security.

“The PGR is very active in raising money for Wreaths Across America,” said Pat Buchanan, who heads up the local chapter.

“And it’s not only the PGR who participates. There are also the American Legion Riders, ABATE (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education), the Masons, the Roughnecks (EMTs and first responders) and many other motorcycle groups, many of whose members are veterans.

“They all do much charity work, and Wreaths Across America is one of the main events they support.”

When I told Buchanan that Billy McGraw had sent me the pictures, he said, “Billy is an amazing individual.

“He was in the hospital a few weeks ago, and two days later he was on his motorcycle at the Georgia National Cemetery with the PGR, because he considers it an honor. We all do.”

On Wreaths Across America Day, held the 3rd Saturday before Christmas each December, volunteers place wreaths on individual veterans’ graves in more than 1,200 locations throughout the U.S., with ceremonies at sea and at each of the national cemeteries on foreign soil.

A nonprofit organization, Wreaths Across America was founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992.

“It all started when Worcester Farms donated 5,000 wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Buchanan.

It became a quietly observed annual tribute, until 2005, when it suddenly received national attention.

“It snowed,” continued Buchanan, “and a beautiful picture of all those wreaths laid on the snow at Arlington went viral.

“After that, it spread nationwide.”

On the Wreaths Across America website, I found the following quote by Karen Worcester,
executive director:

“When we lay wreaths on veterans’ graves, we say their names.

“We encourage every volunteer who places a wreath on a veteran’s grave to say that veteran’s name aloud and take a moment to thank them for their service to our country. It’s a small act that goes a long way toward keeping the memory of our veterans alive.

“We are not here to ‘decorate graves.’ We’re here to remember not their deaths, but their lives.”

At the Georgia National Cemetery, the wreaths will remain in place until approximately Jan. 10.

For more information or to sponsor a wreath, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Times Courier

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 1076
Ellijay, GA. 30540

Phone: 706-635-4313
Fax: 706-635-7006