SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - On Saturday, more than two thousand live green Christmas wreaths were placed on headstones at the National Cemetery annex on the grounds of the VA Medical Center in Salisbury. Wreaths were also placed on many of the headstones at the National Cemetery location off Military Avenue.
It's part of a national program called "Wreaths Across America."
The movement began a number of years ago and was largely confined to Arlington National Cemetery, until a photo of the headstones was shared nationally, prompting similar efforts to place wreaths on graves across the country.
This year at 1,422 locations, volunteers in every state placed more than 1,565,000 remembrance wreaths.
At Arlington National Cemetery specifically, 244,700 wreaths (one for each marker there) were placed by more than 75,000 volunteers, the largest crowd to ever participate there. Nearly 500 truckloads of wreaths were transported across the country through a network of hundreds of volunteer drivers, donated trucking and diesel, and countless hours of dedicated volunteers committed to the mission to Remember, Honor and Teach.
"Today, we honor the freedom fighters, and it our responsibility to be the freedom caretakers," said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America, during her opening remarks. "It is important to teach our children from patriotism, not politics, so they'll carry on the caring for freedom."
Events at Arlington began with the arrival of a mile-long convoy of ceremonial vehicles, including tractor-trailers, buses, and cars carrying wreaths, veterans, Gold Star and Blue Star Families and supporters. The escort Grand Marshals – Vietnam Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Roger Donlon, U.S. Army Special Forces (Retired) and his wife, Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife – spoke to the crowd about their incredible experience with the caravan as it traveled down the East Coast last week stopping at schools, memorials and other locations along the way to spread the mission.
Each live, balsam remembrance wreath is a gift of respect and appreciation, donated by a private citizen or organization and placed on the graves by volunteers as a small gesture of gratitude for the freedoms Americans enjoy.
For centuries, fresh evergreens have been used as a symbol of honor and have served as a living tribute renewed annually. Wreaths Across America believes the tradition represents a living memorial that honors veterans, active duty military and their families.
When each wreath is placed, volunteers are asked to say the name of the veteran out loud to ensure their memory lives on.
Wreaths Across America contributed to this story