Each year, a ceremony takes place in memory of fallen soldiers during the holiday season. An organization known as Wreaths Across America sponsors an event every December where a wreath is placed at every grave to honor the fallen soldiers. This event is held at the Arlington National Cemetery, as well as 1,400 other locations across all fifty states, at sea and abroad. Jessica Quinter, Juniata Valley Elementary School principal, has participated in the wreath ceremony for a few years at the Arlington National Cemetery.
“My husband, Todd, and I have volunteered for two years now with my brother, Eric, and his wife, Nicole.” Quinter explained. “Eric is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and has been able to place a wreath at the gravesite of a friend each year.”
Wreaths Across America’s motto, or goal, is to “Remember, Honor and Teach.” They started their project to honor service men and women during the holidays because men and women serve every day, including the holidays. The organization discussed that many families have sons, daughters, siblings and parents away during the holiday, so it is important to recognize those who have passed over the holidays, even though there is already Veterans Day in the fall and Memorial Day in the spring.
Thousands of people volunteer each year to ensure that a wreath is placed at each individual gravesite. The ceremony starts around 8:30 a.m. and lasts throughout the day. Tractor trailers filled with hundreds of thousands of wreaths enter the cemetery and drive to different locations throughout the cemetery to park and then the ceremony begins. Volunteers line up behind each trailer collecting the wreaths and heading to multiple grave sites to pay their respects.
Each volunteer is asked to say the name of the soldier out loud as the place the wreath on their graves. Other volunteers often say a prayer or salute after saying the name out loud out of respect before placing the wreath on the grave. Quinter chose to honor a veteran by the name of Sgt. William D Port. He lived in Petersburg before his passing.
Quinter explained: “I decided to locate the gravesite of Sgt. William Port, because I knew he was from Petersburg and felt it would be a meaningful gesture to pay my respects at his site.” Mr. Port is also the relative to a few students within the district. Mr. Port was and is still is highly respected for his actions during the Vietnam War when he rescued a wounded comrade and then smothered the blast of a grenade with his body to protect other soldiers around him. Though he survived the incident, he was captured by the enemy and remained a prisoner until eventually succumbing to his wounds.
Students in the junior class who participated in the annual class trip to Washington, D.C. visited Mr. Port’s grave site earlier in the year. Once there, JV teachers discussed Mr. Port’s life with the students and explained family relations between students in the junior class and Port.
“It’s great to bring some recognition to this event, and I would strongly encourage others to participate,” Quinter added.
Remembering soldiers all year around whether they have perished or are still serving, arather than only twice a year on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, is extremely important and Wreaths Across America is just one way people can honor these special men and women.