Wreaths Across America hits close to home

Tom KingFarragut

There are two veterans buried within 10 feet of one another in a cemetery plot in Macon, Georgia. The plot was big enough for six – my grandparents, their two daughters and their husbands. My father’s two Purple Hearts and his ribbons from World War II were buried with him there. My uncle fought heroically in the Pacific and both had military funerals.

The memories washed over me yesterday as a new friend – Chris Albrecht – introduced the wonderful Wreaths Across America program to the Rotary Club of Farragut at Fox Den Country Club. He is the United Veterans Council of East Tennessee’s Wreath Program Ambassador. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam Conflict.

This national organization works every year to place an evergreen wreath on the grave of veterans on the “National Wreaths Across America Day.” This year it will be on Saturday, Dec. 14, and the ceremonies will begin at noon.

Our veterans are not to be forgotten – ever.

Here in Knoxville the Veterans Council works to make sure that the approximately 18,000 veterans’ graves have wreaths. Last year they had the funds to place just more than 13,000 wreaths, thus leaving 6,000 or so graves without wreaths.

There are ceremonies at three cemeteries locally – the East Tennessee State Veterans cemeteries on Lyons View Pike with its 5,292 graves and on John Sevier Highway with its 2,900 graves, and the U.S. National Cemetery on Tyson Street with 9,246 graves (including the grave of the great University of Tennessee coach, Army Brig. Gen. Robert R. Neyland).

Albrecht shared the organization’s mission:

  • Remember our fallen U.S. veterans.
  • Honor those who serve.
  • Teach your children the value of freedom.

The ceremonies around the country are done in coordination with the wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,600 additional locations in all 50 states, at sea and abroad. At Arlington, wreaths will adorn the 226,525 graves by that Saturday afternoon in December.

“No hero is ever forgotten,” Albrecht said.

The history of this organization is very interesting. You can click on https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/our-story to read about how Wreaths Across America began and how it has developed.

Albrecht says that the veterans’ cemetery on John Sevier Highway is adding graves fast, averaging 15 funerals a week this year to date. The cemetery will end this year at some 2,900 gravesites.

“We are really hoping that we can have enough donations this year to take care of the 6,000 headstones we had to bypass last year,” he said. “We are hoping people will join us in honoring these veterans with a wreath for the holidays.”

Locally, the major sponsors are Food City, East Tennessee PBS, Centriworks and Berry Lynnhurst Funeral Home.

Albrecht says that a donation of $15 will pay for a wreath.

You can donate at the Knox Wreaths website and click on the link for the Farragut High School Navy JRROTC to donate. That link is at the bottom of the page. You also can make checks payable to: Wreaths Across America, P.O. Box 50054, Knoxville TN 37950. Knox Wreaths is a 501(c)(3).

Many veterans are not buried in veterans’ cemeteries – veterans like my dad and uncle. This is the case in many families around our country. We all need to remember those veterans as well.

If you’re interested in exploring membership in Farragut Rotary, drop me an email at [email protected] We meet at 12:15 p.m. each Wednesday at Fox Den Country Club. You also can call me at 865-659-3562.

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California. He started writing for KnoxTNToday in 2017.

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