More than a decoration

02/07/2017   Story and photos by Sgt. Stephanie A. Hargett 108th Training Command - (IET)
 

A hush fell on the crowd as the chaplain delivered an opening prayer. Church bells rang in the distance.

An array of mixed emotions filled the air at the seventh annual, Wreaths Across America event, at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Dec. 17.

Laughter, tears, and wonderful stories were told as volunteers laid 2,300 wreaths on the graves of fallen service members.

For one Soldier, Master Sgt. Jeffery Wyatt, 1st Battalion, 518th Infantry Regiment, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), this day was more than placing a wreath on a service member’s grave, he placed a wreath on his father’s grave.

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An individual salutes the grave of Pfc. Christian ‘Kade’ Warriner at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, N.C. Dec. 17, 2016. Family and friends visited loved ones during and after the Wreaths Across America event, where donated wreath are laid on the graves of American veterans across the world.

“Dad was a CW4 when he retired, he was a Quartermaster,” said Wyatt. “He started his career in 1952 with the 101st Airborne, jumping. He ended his career in 1980 at the 101st which was air assault at that time.”

Lonnie Wyatt Jr., served 28 years in the Army. Son, Jeffrey, would follow in his footsteps.

“I joined Apr. 1, 1987 and have served twenty-nine years. Daddy really didn’t care if I joined or not. He never pushed it. We feel it’s a calling,” he said.

A woman receives comforting kisses from her dog as they visit her late husband at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, N.C. Dec. 17, 2016. Family and friends visited loved ones during and after the Wreaths Across America event, where donated wreath are laid on the graves of American veterans across the world.

“Probably the most I remember about dad is living in Germany for three years,” said Wyatt. “I was 12. Daddy’s hobby was making clocks. On the weekends he’d take off and I would sometimes go with him and translate. I would help translate deals and he would buy the clock makers out. He hated coo-coo clocks though.”

Daniel Palmer, Assistant Mountain District Captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, address the crowd at the Wreaths Across America event at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, N.C. Dec. 17, 2016. Volunteers lay wreaths on service member’s graves at all American veteran cemeteries around the world on the third Saturday of December every year as a part of Wreaths Across America.

Lonnie was laid to rest April 6, 1996.

Wyatt wasn’t the only person who spent the day reminiscing about his father.

Daniel Palmer, Assistant Mountain District Captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, who helped make Wreaths Across America happen at the cemetery, also reflected on his father’s service and shared about his own short experience with the Army.

“My father was in the Second World War,” said Palmer. “My dad was one of the developers of the M1 Garand at the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s where he met my mother. She was a machine operator. They got married.”

Master Sgt. Jeffery Wyatt lays a wreath on his father’s grave, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Lonnie Wyatt Jr., at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, N.C. Dec. 17, 2016. Family and friends visited loved ones during and after the Wreaths Across America event, where donated wreath are laid on the graves of American veterans across the world.

“He was an engineer and a developer so he didn’t have to go in the service.”

Palmer says his father turned in his resignation when he found out she (Palmer’s mother) was pregnant. He joined the service to help with the war effort.

“He got as far as Okinawa and that was it. He’s buried at West Point. I never knew him, I was 2 months old,” he said.

Even though Palmer never met his father he chose to serve as well, but it wouldn’t be a normal time in service.

“I was in the military for one day. I was inducted at 9 o’clock and discharged at 3 o’clock in 1965.”

Palmer says he was discharged due to the Selective Service law.

With his attempt to serve and his father’s service, he wanted to be a part of something special. He’s been a part of it for a while.

“This is our seventh year. This is the best year we have ever had. We’ve got about 2,300 wreaths this year. Last year we had 1,100 and that was the best year that we’d had up until this year.”

A Cadet from the T.C. Roberson High School, U.S. Air Force Junior ROTC receives the name of a service member buried at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, N.C. Dec. 17, 2016. Volunteers lay wreaths on service member’s graves at all American veteran cemeteries around the world on the third Saturday of December every year as a part of Wreaths Across America.

All the wreaths are donated. They are purchased individually either by one person or an organization.

“All the boxes you saw are from people who donate. There is a ceremony in every U.S. Military cemetery in the world and it takes place on this date at noon time, local time. So there’s always wreaths being laid,” he said.

A little over 13% were donated by one individual.

“There were 300 wreaths here before on the ground and a part of that was a woman by the name June Honeycutt. Her grandson, Christopher ‘Kade’ Warriner, was a KIA in Afghanistan,” said Palmer.

“Every year she donates 300 wreaths.”

Wreaths Across America takes part in cemeteries beyond Arlington or state veteran cemeteries.

“If you have a church that has a cemetery with deceased veterans in it, you can order through wreaths

Across America. They’ll ship to them and you can place them on your own,” he said.

Not only are the wreaths donated, but so is the time.

“There are over 500 trucking companies who volunteer their trucks to carry these wreaths all over the United States. Every driver volunteers, the drivers don’t get paid. The fella [sic.] that brought our wreaths was a Vietnam vet. He does it every year. That’s his way of giving back,” said Palmer.

Wreaths were laid upon the graves of service members at the Wreaths Across America event at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, N.C. Dec. 17, 2016. Volunteers lay wreaths on service member’s graves at all American veteran cemeteries around the world on the third Saturday of December every year as a part of Wreaths Across America.

This event has many volunteers who help out and all have their own personal reason as to why they do it.

“The pleasure, the knowledge, the satisfaction. The knowledge that we have done something for those who made it possible to do what we do. We’re here because we show the respect, the honor and the gratitude that we have for those who have gone before us. But not just the ones that are buried here, the ones that are still making it possible to do what we’re doing.” He said.

The event isn’t all somber, there are things that make the volunteers feel joy and make it worthwhile.

“One of the things I enjoy the most is when families show up to do this and they’ve got their kids with them. We get ROTC and the Civil Air Patrol. These kids are our future. It’s just so good that parents are bringing them out to show them and say, ‘all of these people made it possible for this type of thing to happen, for us to do this and be able to have freedom,” said Palmer

When the wreaths were laid, the traditional noon-time ceremony commenced.

Palmer, who became emotional while speaking before the laying of the individual service wreathes, concluded the event with these words:

“The United States of America was founded on the idea of freedom, justice and equality. Our nation stands as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom to the world. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we shall not forget you. We shall remember.”

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The Griffon Summer 2017

Vol. 41.2 | Summer 2017

The Griffon
The Griffon is written and published quarterly in the interest of the 108th National Training Command.
 






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