Wreaths Across America: Remember, honor, teach

Tom KingFarragut, Our Town Heroes

The keywords today are Remember … Honor … Teach.

Remember the fallen … Honor those who serve … Teach our children the value of freedom.

That is the message you will see on the website for Knoxville and East Tennessee’s Wreaths Across America and on other websites across the country as we approach December 17, the day when wreaths are placed on every veteran’s grave at approximately 257 cemeteries across the country and abroad.

Locally, more than 19,000 graves await their holiday wreaths.

In 2020 some 1.7 million wreaths were placed by a million volunteers. “And one third of those volunteers are children and young people,” said Chris Albrecht, an ambassador for Wreaths Across America who spoke to the Rotary Club of Farragut at Fox Den Country Club on Nov 16. “Our goal is simple – that no hero will ever be forgotten.”

In Knoxville and Knox County, the Vietnam Veterans Council of East Tennessee sponsors and coordinates Wreaths Across America here. The website has buttons for donating, volunteering or helping sponsor the events.

Ceremonies will begin at noon on Friday, December 17, at Knoxville’s three cemeteries that are home to graves for 19,000 fallen heroes. Those cemeteries are:

  • Knoxville National Cemetery at 939 Tyson St., Knoxville: Veteran Graves — more than 9,000
  • Old East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, Lyons View Pike: 5,200 graves and it is full.
  • New East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, Gov. John Sevier Highway: 4,000 graves with room for more.

“Having room to grow at the East Tennessee State cemetery is very significant because they are having 15 to 20 funerals a week for our veterans,” Albrecht said. “Do the math.”

Albrecht, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, explained that the local effort was jump-started several years ago after U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, then Knox County mayor, and his late mother, became involved.

Albrecht was asking for help with two things. First, donate on the website to help pay for the remembrance wreaths. Second, sign up on the website to volunteer at one of the cemeteries to help place the wreaths. “And bring your children with you whether you volunteer or just come. It’s a golden opportunity to teach our kids that our freedoms are not free,” he said. “If you are coming out, get there early around 11.”

When each wreath is placed, the person who laid the wreath takes a step back and says the veteran’s name aloud and usually ends with a salute. “It’s pretty special,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht also noted that the legendary University of Tennessee football coach General Robert R. Neyland is buried at the National Cemetery and has a wreath with a red ribbon placed on his grave each year. “And every year someone sneaks in and takes off the red ribbon and replaces it with an orange one,” Albrecht said.

The history of this very special program is fascinating, to say the least. It makes for great reading here about the Maine man who started it all.  The local group also has a Facebook page here.

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia and is a past president of the Rotary Club of Farragut. If you want more information about Rotary please email Tom.

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