On Saturday, community members gathered in Urbana’s Oak Dale Cemetery, despite scattered showers, to remember and honor service members this holiday season.
Wreaths Across America (WAA) is a national nonprofit organization founded by Morrill Worchester. Since 2007, WAA has partnered with organizations in every state across the country to donate balsam fir veteran’s wreaths, adorned with a hand-tied red bow, to lay on the graves of United States veterans.
This year, over 2,700 locations nationwide participated in a wreath-laying ceremony on December 18 (National Wreaths Across America Day).
Urbana’sceremony was headed up by Urbana’s Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), chaired by Pat Detwiler. Kim Snyder, regent of the Urbana DAR, directed the day’s events as spokesperson.
“Thank you for joining us here today as we celebrate the mission to remember the fallen, honor those who served and their families, and to teach the next generation the value of freedom,” Snyder said to the collected volunteers.
The ceremony began with a moment of silence to honor fallen soldiers, prisoners of war, those missing in action, and current service members. Next, the Color Guard, provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5451 and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 31, presented the colors, and all recited the Pledge of Allegiance, led by Detwiler.
The Honor Detail, composed of eight local veterans (or family members), then presented and saluted eight ceremonial veterans’ wreaths to represent each branch of U.S. military honored service members.
First, Christy Wilhelm presented a wreath for the Army, followed by Dave Johnson, who presented a wreath for the Marine Corps. Vincent Deppen, though not a veteran, then presented a wreath for the Navy, as he is from a Blue Star family; his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather are Navy veterans. Next, Jesse Henson presented a wreath for the Air Force, Ryman Donahoe presented a wreath for the Coast Guard and Chad Pitcock presented a wreath for the Merchant Marines.
Additionally, new this year, WAA added a veterans wreath to represent the United States Space Force, placed by Gary Huffman.
Finally, Craig Bennett placed a wreath to remember the 93,129 United States service members from all branches whose last known status was either missing in action or prisoner of war.
Snyder also paused to recognize and thank the United States Public Health Commissioned Corps, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps, Gold Star and Blue Star families and first responders.
The Honor Guard, provided by the American Legion Post 120, then fired a 21-gun salute, and Urbana High School Marching Band members Moriah Tavenner and Andrew Chamberlain played a somber rendition of EchoTaps.
To close the ceremony, Snyder expressed the DAR’s gratitude to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, as well as the City of Urbana, for their assistance in conducting the day’s events.
To date, 1,742 known veterans are buried in Urbana’s Oak Dale Cemetery (though Snyder reports that the DAR is currently working to update the count). Veterans laid to rest in Oak Dale span the entire war history of the United States, from the American Revolution through Afghanistan.
Included in this count is Wendell Stokes, a Tuskegee Airman and former Urbana City Council member.
Of these 1,742 veterans, the DAR was able to sponsor 1,085 wreaths through community donations. However, a clerical error in ordering resulted in the chapter being sent extra wreaths, so the entirety of Oak Dale Cemetery could be covered. Moreover, the DAR could also send extra wreaths to neighboring cemeteries such as Urbana Township’s Grandview Cemetery, the Dayton National Cemetery and St. Paris’s Evergreen Cemetery.
Snyder thanked donors such as the Lions Club and the Rotary Club, as well as other supporters and volunteers such as the Kenton Ridge National Honor Society, local 4-H members, Scouts, Children of the American Revolution members and the Urbana Chapter of the Future Farmers of America.
Before volunteers dispersed to lay wreaths, Snyder encouraged all participants to say each veteran’s name aloud, thank them for their sacrifice and take a moment of silence at each grave.
“It is a small act that goes a long way toward keeping the memory of our veterans alive,” Snyder said. “We are not here to decorate graves today. We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives, and we honor the gift of freedom that each one of our veterans has assured us.”
Reach Katie at UDCeditor@aimmediamidwest.com