One of the largest winter-time crowds, estimated by organizers at between 400 and 450, heard short speeches, witnessed a brief ceremony Saturday and then helped place wreaths decorated with bright red Christmas bows on each of the 2,400 gravestones and memorial markers at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo.
Unlike last year when it was bitterly cold and dark clouds were threatening to snow, attendees at this year’s sixth annual Wreaths Across America ceremony reveled in the bright sunshine, clear skies and temperatures close to 65 degrees for the noontime gathering.
“This is one of three public programs we hold each year at the cemetery, but this one has the most public involvement because people get to help with placing the wreaths on each grave,” noted Stephen Jorgensen, California’s Assistant Deputy Secretary of Veterans Memorials and Cemeteries. Jorgensen is also chief administrator of the Igo cemetery.
In the weeks, days and hours leading up to the event, more than 60 volunteers attached red bows to wreaths and assembled groups of wreaths at each of 14 burial areas on cemetery grounds, Jorgensen said.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Dave Price, now a detective with the Anderson Police Department, gave the keynote speech and explained the purpose of Wreaths Across America.
“For more than 21 years, participants have paid homage by decorating the graves of our fallen with wreaths during the Christmas season,” Price said.
“To be killed in war is not the worst thing that can happen. To be lost and forgotten is the worst. We are here today to remember the fallen who gave up their tomorrows with family and loved ones so that we can enjoy our todays,” he added.
“We are here to honor those who serve in the armed forces and who willingly put themselves in harm’s way. We honor those who suffer discomfort and loss of their own freedoms so we can enjoy ours,” Price continued.
“Finally, we are here to teach our children about those freedoms we enjoy each day and at what cost they were purchased. The best teaching is by example. Our traditions of democracy will endure only if future generations understand the responsibilities of citizenship and service,” he said.
Earlier in the program, four young girls — Nacconna Venderbeck, Savanna Miller, Michel Devault and Natalie Brown — all fifth-graders in Ms. Dawn Burhans’ class at Pacheco Elementary School, spoke about their respective family members who are veterans.
Once the ceremony concluded with Don Wehunt playing taps, those with relatives buried at the cemetery were invited to place a wreath on their loved one’s grave before the remaining attendees and volunteers helped decorate all of the remaining grave and memorial markers.
Finally, Anderson Police Department volunteers cooked hotdogs for the dozens of volunteers who made the ceremony possible, organizer Kim Chamberlain said.