Despite the drizzling rain Saturday, people paid tribute to veterans by placing wreaths on their grave sites at New Bern National Cemetery.
National Wreaths Across America Day was commemorated at 1,640 participating locations nationwide, with grateful Americans in every state placing 1.8 million veterans' wreaths on the headstones of our nation's heroes.
For the first time, a wreath was placed on every single one of the 6,772 graves at New Bern National Cemetery. That's the most wreaths the group has ever placed in New Bern.
“For me, placing the wreaths is important because there are so many veterans that served at a time when we as a society didn’t fully understand the sacrifices they endured. It’s a heartfelt way to say thank you to the veterans and their families,” said Kevin Yates, Wreaths Across America coordinator for New Bern.
New Bern High School Band showed its support by playing the National Anthem during the ceremony. Veterans organizations along with Boys and Girls Scouts aided in unpacking and staging wreaths. After the National Cemetery ceremony, Scouts along with several hundred other volunteers placed wreaths on each gravestone. All told, it only took about 20 minutes to lay wreaths on more than 6,700 graves.
Yates offered a thought provoking vignette about why the ceremony is important.
“There is a saying that a person dies twice, once they leave the earth and twice the last time their name is spoken out loud,” he said. “We stress that when the wreath is placed, their name is spoken to keep their memory alive and service remembered.”
New Bern's National Cemetery is special by virtue of being the largest National Cemetery in the old North State due to the number of interments. Wreaths are a way to say thanks for your service.
“We have many Civil War veterans buried here, including over 1,000 unknowns. No one visits these veterans or leaves flowers on their special days. At least once a year, their service and sacrifice is not forgotten. Several hundred people worked throughout this past week to unload trucks, stage wreaths, set up tents, and place the wreaths on the headstones,” said Yates, who served in the Marine Corps for 20 years and retired at Cherry Point. His wife, Addie, served in the Navy for four years.
Many of these volunteers were veterans, active duty military and their families, scouts, and family member of those buried here. All together, the group had over 11,000 wreaths to distribute with 6,772 wreaths placed in New Bern.
Yates said when it was certain that New Bern National Cemetery was covered, he contacted the Jacksonville State Veteran Cemetery to give them the 2,500 wreaths they needed to fully cover their cemetery. The remaining wreaths are being stored at Ruth’s Chapel Church and are being distributed to smaller cemeteries around ENC.
“Jacksonville now has full coverage, we covered a small cemetery in Trent Woods, and the remaining wreaths will go to cemeteries in Havelock,” Yates said.
In many homes, there is an empty seat for one who is serving or one who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, so there is no denying that while a cemetery is a somber but peaceful place, the green wreaths with their red bows offer a bit more color to the winter landscape. Maybe too do the wreaths offer a sense of community pride.
“I’m very proud,” he said. “We set out with one goal: to cover every headstone with a wreath. After the hurricane, I didn’t think we would come even close. We stopped fundraising in September and October, due to the recovery efforts. But the community really made this happen. We even placed many wreaths on the back side of the headstones for the spouses and children. I'm very proud of New Bern and Eastern North Carolina.”