On the morning of Sábado, Diciembre 14, at the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo, a busload of Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School Middle School students stood amongst hundreds of volunteers in somber remembrance of those whose headstones they would adorn with wreaths. Wreaths Across America is a volunteer organization whose mission is to remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and teach children the value of freedom. Once a year, volunteers from across the United States, at sea, and abroad gather at military cemeteries to lay remembrance wreaths onto the graves of our country’s fallen heroes from all branches of service. This is the 11th year that the Alabama National Cemetery has held this event.
The Wreaths Across America event attracted hundreds of volunteers from across the state of Alabama. With the many hands available, placing wreaths on all 6,000 grave markers was light work. Some had loved ones they could honor with wreaths. For others, it was an opportunity to pay tribute to comrades in arms. For all in attendance, it was an unforgettable event, and hopefully, it will raise awareness of the importance of remembering all veterans.
MCPS theology teacher Tom Riello and history teacher Hollis Johnson accompanied the 30 students on the trip. Riello joined his 7thgrade son, Peter, who had signed up to help that day.
“I had heard from other people who had gone last year about how moving this ceremony was,” said Riello. “When Peter volunteered to help, I figured it was as good of an excuse as any to go. It was such a privilege to be a part of a ceremony that acknowledged the heroic sacrifice of those who gave everything they had for the cause of freedom in the United States and around the world.”
Peter saw Wreaths Across America as a unique opportunity to honor those who had dedicated their lives to service to our country.
“I wanted to honor veterans and pay my respects to them for all they’ve sacrificed for us,” he said. “My brother served in the Navy, so this was a special day for me. I really enjoyed hearing stories about the veterans during the ceremony and learning about what they were willing to do in defense of our citizens. My favorite part of the day was when I got to place wreaths and say a prayer for each person.”
For Johnson, who is a veteran himself, this trip had an even more significant meaning to him.
“I loved participating in Wreaths Across America so much last year I couldn’t wait to do it again this year,” he said. “Being a Marine Corps veteran, I find it very moving to honor those veterans who are no longer with us.”
Although there are federal holidays that pay tribute to members of the military, Wreaths Across America aims to bring attention to the service of veterans and acknowledge the importance of remembering them, especially through the winter holidays. And for Johnson, it was an opportunity to recognize brothers in arms.
“Like last year, I looked for brother Marines to lay a wreath at their graves,” he said. “I found two Vietnam War Marines, saluted them, then prayed for each and their families. It’s touching to know that they are not forgotten; someone knows they are there. Semper Fidelis, ‘Always Faithful.’”
For all in attendance, it was an unforgettable event, and hopefully it will raise awareness of the importance of remembering all veterans.
The wreaths will remain in the cemetery until Enero, at which time the MCPS Middle School students will return to help clear the cemetery. More information about Wreaths Across America can be found at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.