Remembering Veterans with Wreaths Across America
By Jordan Venema
Wreathed in Honor
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by Frank Rose
THE HOLIDAY SEASON is here, and while for many that means spending time with loved ones, it is also a season for many others who can only remember the loved ones they have lost. And every Christmas, a group of volunteers led by Charlotte Bailey is making sure that veterans buried at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo will be remembered no matter what.
Bailey has been working with the local chapter of the national organization Wreaths Across America for 10 years, following the death of her husband Alan.
“He was a Korean War veteran,” explains Bailey. “He and I decided this is where we should be buried, so when my husband passed in July of ’08, that Christmas I just wanted to do something for veterans. He didn’t make a big thing about being in the Korean War, but I did.”
Kim Chamberlain started the program when, according to Bailey, they used to make wreaths with live boughs, “and that was fine when the cemetery was small, but now we’ve started using artificial wreaths because we could not make them all.”
When they switched from live to artificial wreaths, they only laid about 1,000 wreaths a year, but with about 300 burials annually, there are now about 2,000 wreaths that
need to be laid. Bailey says she couldn’t prepare the wreaths without the help of her volunteers.
“I’m so thrilled with my volunteers,” she says. “A bunch of us get together the Thursday before the ceremony and fluff the wreaths because they’ve been in storage in containers on the property.”
Bailey and volunteers check the wreaths and bows and replace whatever is needed, but mostly they just have a great time. And obviously, they’re doing it for a great cause.
“We want each wreath to give due respect to the person,” says Bailey.
Volunteers range in age, but Bailey says she is especially excited by the children who come both to fluff the wreaths and participate in the ceremony.
“We love the children because it’s an excellent time to teach them,” says Bailey.
With fewer American soldiers fighting and dying in wars, and since the draft ended in 1973, younger children are less likely to have family members with military service. That means fewer military deaths, down from more than 400,000 in World War 2 and approximately 58,000 in Vietnam to only about 4,500 U.S. soldier casualties as a result of the war in Iraq. Ultimately, the decline in U.S. military deaths is a good thing, but it also means more than ever, it is important to teach children to remember the veterans who have fallen, says Bailey.
This year’s ceremony is at noon on Saturday, Dec. 15. “It’s about a half hour long, but in that ceremony we get schoolchildren to write a short essay to talk about what veterans mean to them,” explains Bailey.
Following the ceremony, guests are invited to lay wreaths at every veteran’s grave. Individuals who have loved ones and family members buried at the cemetery are given the first opportunity to lay wreaths.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Bailey’s husband, which brings its own significance, but since she lost her home in the Carr Fire, and with it many of the physical mementos from her marriage, this year is especially difficult.
“Oh, you bet,” agrees Bailey. “My house burned down and everything in it,” including contact information for many past years’ volunteers.
“I’ve lost all my records, and pretty much people my age out there prefer to be called. I would call them every year, and I always called on a Sunday when football was on because I figured they’d be home,” she chuckles, saying they usually replied with, “It’s about time you called.”
“So if you were a volunteer or if you’d like to volunteer, please call me,” Bailey asks.
But she’s not too worried, and if anything, knowing how the community has responded after the Carr Fire, she wouldn’t be surprised if she has more volunteers than ever.
“The most meaningful thing is working with
the people,” Bailey continues. “We want to remember, honor, teach. That’s the purpose of Wreaths Across America.”
Bailey counts herself lucky, because as she says, “That’s what I get to do. We’re just a small part of something wonderful.”
Those who would like to volunteer or help lay wreaths the day of the ceremony should contact Bailey by phone.
And while this is a season to remember loved ones and family members, you don’t actually need to be family to remember; you only need to be thankful for their service. •
INTERESTED IN SPONSORING A WREATH?
Sponsor a Wreaths Across America wreath for $15 via Veteran Flags and Flowers, the nonprofit fundraising group of local student Preston Sharp, who has gained national recognition for honoring veterans. Wreaths Across America donates
$5 back to
Wreaths Across America
11800 Gas Point Road, Igo