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The Wreaths Across America Program
By Bill Hoagland
For a number of years, there has been a privately funded program spearheaded by veterans and survivors of veterans to place a Christmas wreath on the grave of every soldier buried in one of our national cemeteries during the month of December. It is known as the “Wreaths Across America” program. There are more than 2,500 national cemeteries, so that obviously involves a lot of graves and a lot of people behind the scenes following through on this effort. The stated purpose of the organization responsible for this program is three-fold: to remember our deceased veterans, to honor our current veterans and to teach our youth about the freedoms we have because of these veterans.
While we also honor and recognize our veterans on Memorial Day and on Veterans Day, the fact is that the Christmas season is a uniquely vulnerable and lonely time for veterans, particularly if they are overseas at Christmas time. And that is why placing a Christmas wreath on the graves of deceased soldiers can be so meaningful for both current and past members of our armed forces; it is our way of telling them that we will never forget.
So on Dec. 18, a group of us veterans will join with others in the placement of wreaths on graves at the National Cemetery in Alton. The same ceremony will be going on at all National Cemeteries throughout our country and beyond. But believe it or not, there is an organization that opposes this program and has been outspoken about it. This group, known as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is opposed because it means that a symbol of Christianity might be placed on the grave of someone who was not a Christian and who might object to it if they were alive.
I am told that every effort will be made to avoid placing a wreath on the grave of any veteran who is obviously of a different faith or whose family requests that a wreath not be placed on that grave for whatever reason. Ironically, the fact is that for many of these graves, this is the only time anyone visits that grave during the entire year and that, regrettably, says a lot about many of us.
And let me suggest one more consideration: today we have far too many veterans who are committing suicide. Maybe this program is just one small way we can show these veterans that we care and more importantly, we will never forget.
If this effort saves just one life, doesn’t that make it worth doing even if an wreath occasionally gets misplaced? I think so.
• Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at email@example.com.