Volunteers to lay wreaths for veterans at Dec. 15 ceremony

Tracy Haun OwensFeature, South Knox, West Knox

Join an outpouring of volunteers as they place wreaths on veterans’ headstones at the three local veterans’ cemeteries at noon Saturday, Dec. 15, as part of a national Wreaths Across America Day. The cemeteries are the two East Tennessee State Veterans Cemeteries, at 2200 E. Gov. John Sevier Highway and 5901 Lyons View Pike, and the Knoxville National Cemetery, 939 Tyson St.

As the volunteer places the wreath, he or she will say that veteran’s name aloud.

The naming “is an important component,” says U.S. Navy veteran and West Knox County resident Chris Albrecht. “They say a person dies twice: once when they take their last breath, and the second when their name is no longer spoken.”

Albrecht is the public information officer for Vietnam Veterans of America Capt. Bill Robinson Chapter 1078, which raises funds and awareness for the local wreaths program. The ceremonies and volunteer coordination are handled by the coordinators at the individual cemeteries.

The wreaths observation was spearheaded locally by former Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. Not knowing who his 2018 successor would be, Burchett came to the VVA last year to ask them to take over the program. (Albrecht says new Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who is himself an “Air Force brat,” is a big supporter.)

Albrecht has spent the past several months drumming up donations, speaking to local civic and professional groups and getting the word out through social media. Each wreath is $15. The original donation deadline was last week, so that the organization could have the purchased wreaths created by the Wreaths Across America organization in Maine. (There’s a big tree farm in Maine just for that purpose, plus donated trucking services.) But the Knoxville VVA has found a local supplier that can pitch in for wreath creation, and so it will be accepting donations through Sunday, Dec. 9. Any donations that come in after that will be banked for next year.

Albrecht says volunteers for the wreath-laying come from all across the community – some for personal reasons, some “because it’s the right thing to do.” There are several Boy and Girl Scout troops that volunteer, he says, as well as families with young children.

“It gives the kids the opportunity to learn about veterans and sacrifice,” he says.

There are about 17,000 headstones in the three cemeteries. Last year, roughly a third had wreaths.

“This year we’re going to do much, much better,” Albrecht says. “And for next year our goal is 100 percent.”

If you would like to volunteer, plan to show up at one of the three cemeteries before noon. For more information, or to make a donation, visit the VVA site.

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