The areas where veterans are laid to rest at Evergreen Memorial Gardens became coated with a symbol of honor, respect and holiday cheer Saturday morning.
It was standing room only inside the east Vancouver cemetery’s chapel for Wreaths Across America, an event that took place in cemeteries across the nation Saturday to recognize and remember those who served or are serving in the military by placing wreaths on veteran gravestones.
Master Sgt. Josiah Morales with the Lewis & Clark Young Marines explained the symbolism behind the green wreaths adorned with red bows. “Green represents the land that is protected and defended against by our brave men and women,” and red signifies the blood that was shed, he said.
“Lord, bless this day,” he said during the ceremony. “Bless the families and friends of those who are not home and who are not coming home this Christmas season.”
Representatives from all branches of the military were recognized and placed wreaths as part of the event.
Lindsay Fisher, of Evergreen Memorial Gardens, said the cemetery first got involved after she got a call from a Lewis & Clark Young Marine who had an idea for a service project. That first year, they drummed up enough support to place about 100 remembrance wreaths, she said. Fisher said it’s grown every year and last year volunteers placed 652 wreaths.
This year, a record 2,000 wreaths were sponsored — and the Young Marines were behind a vast majority of those sponsorships. Wreaths cost $15, with $5 going back to the Lewis and Clark Young Marines. The wreaths came from Wreaths Across America’s headquarters in Columbia Falls, Maine.
“Remember we’re not here to decorate graves,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said during the ceremony. “Each wreath is a gift of appreciation. These wreaths symbolize our honor to those who have served and are serving in the armed forces of our great nation and to their families who endure sacrifices every day.”
She encouraged volunteers to say the name of the deceased out loud as they placed a wreath on their gravestone.
“It’s a small act that goes a long ways toward keeping the memory of that vet alive,” McEnerny-Ogle said.
One such vet, who made the ultimate sacrifice, is Andrew Shields. The 2007 Battle Ground High School graduate and Army combat medic was killed by a suicide car bomber on May 31, 2008 in Afghanistan. He was 19. As the Wreaths Across America ceremony moved outside, the Shields family took part in releasing white doves and a wreath was placed on his gravestone.
Volunteers gathered armfuls of wreaths and spread out throughout the memorial gardens laying down wreaths. Young Marines and Marine Cadets placed wreaths on the graves of veterans, and stood at attention as they said the names of the deceased out loud and thanked them for their service.
“I hope someone does that for me someday,” said Justin Phipps, the Marine Cadets of Washington platoon commander.
He noted that some of the gravestones at Evergreen Memorial Gardens are rather old, so it’s comforting to see young people recognizing veterans long after the people who knew them are gone.
Phipps said Wreaths Across American is one of his favorite events. The annual event started in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and has expanded across the country.