This holiday season, 388 veteran graves will not be left barren thanks to the O’Fallon Noon Rotary Club’s efforts to raise over $5,800 to participate for the first time ever in a national campaign — Wreaths Across America.
Local dignitaries, Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois, Boy Scouts of America and Rotary Club members converged for a holiday wreath-laying ceremony to honor all the veterans at the O’Fallon City Cemetery at the end of North Oak Street on Saturday, Dec. 16.
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“We hope this will be the first of many more of O’Fallon’s great annual traditions,” O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach said.
“On the third Saturday in December of every year at noon Eastern time, or 11 a.m. Central time, hundreds of thousands of Americans join together to honor our deceased veterans, and we are adding to that today,” retired U.S. Air Force Col. John “Woody” Almind told over 100 attendees Saturday.
By joining this national campaign, Almind said, “We also are striving to remember our fallen heroes, honor those who serve, and teach our children about the selfless sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedom.”
Local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts quarterbacked laying wreaths on the hundreds of graves following the ceremony, but just before, Almind had a message for them to reflect on.
“When a person passes on, the headstone has two dates on it — the day they were born and the day they died. What we need to focus on is that ‘dash’ in the middle of those two dates. How we live our lives between the dates is most important to us, to our families and our country,” Almind said. “These men and women here, how did they live their dash?”
He then instructed all the Scouts to speak the veteran’s name aloud, reflect, thank him or her for their service and then keep their wreath tag as a memento.
“So, Scouts, as you leave here today, know that your very presence here at this ceremony has honored those here in their final resting place … That’s what you did today. You placed a wreath, and you honored a veteran,” Almind said.
Brandi Baldus, a 15-year-old Girls Scout, shared Almind’s sentiment.
“These people have sacrificed their lives for us to just walk around and be free and do what we want to do. So I think, even if I didn’t know this person, they sacrificed their life at some point and in some way for me. So if I can do this for them, then I will,” Baldus said.
A community effort
Mary Alice Koriath, an O’Fallon Noon Rotary Club member, helped spearhead the effort and fundraising with Almind.
“It truly has been a labor of love to honor those who have sacrificed for us. There are just so many unsung heroes,” Koriath said.
The group has been coordinating with community members, local leaders and business owners to hold numerous fundraiser events, with its most recent at Shiloh’s Green Mount Crossing shopping center’s McAlister’s Deli.
Almind said he had some donors gave more than $1,000 to honor “our American heroes.”
O’Fallon Rotary Club, the O’Fallon VFW Post 805, O’Fallon Fraternal Order of Police, Bob Eckert, The Egg & I, Schildknecht Funeral Home and many more donated funds making the ceremony and O’Fallon’s participation in the national campaign possible, Almind said.
“We hope to add more cemeteries next year, if the sizable investment can be raised,” Koriath said.
Rooted in tradition
Since 1992, the Worcester Wreath Co. has been donating wreaths for grave sites at Arlington National Cemetery. By 2006, Worcester began a campaign called Wreaths Across America donating holiday wreaths in tribute to veterans buried at veteran affair national and state cemeteries.
“This is the 12th year of Wreaths Across America, a nationwide program, and we are excited to start being another site,” Almind said.
Wreaths cost $15. For more information, visit www.wreatharossamerica.org.
The club meets at noon on Monday’s at the Katy Cavins Community Center, 308 East 5th St. in O’Fallon.