In memory of the veterans buried on post, around the world, and those still missing in action, Fort Riley held its 12th Wreaths Across America ceremony on Saturday, December 15.
Wreaths Across America is observed worldwide at more than 1,400 ceremonies in all 50 states as well as at 24 national veteran cemeteries on foreign soil. The organization’s mission is to remind that “every stone has a story” and to teach younger generations about the “value of honoring those who sacrificed to protect America’s freedoms.”
Wreaths were placed in honor of gold star families, prisoners of war, each branch of the military, and on individual veteran’s graves at Fort Riley Cemetery following an introduction by Jerri McBride, Wreaths Across America Fort Riley location leader, an invocation by Chaplain Lt. Col. David Meyer and remarks by Garrison Commander Col. Stephen Shrader.
Shrader told gold star families in attendance that the sacrifices of their loved ones and those buried on post have not been and will not be forgotten.
“They earned the right for remembrance,” Shrader said. “They earned the right for the honor we bestow upon them by decorating their grave sites with Christmas wreaths, a symbol of everlasting life.”
VFW Fourth District Senior Vice Commander David Epersole also spoke at the ceremony, talking about Wreaths Across America’s third goal: ” teaching younger generations about the value of their freedoms and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms.”
“To our children, we want you to understand the freedoms you enjoy today have not been free, but to have to come with the cost of someone who paid [for it]with themselves,” Epersole said. “As a nation standing together, we can defeat terrorism, hatred and injustice — thanks to veterans, we have the freedom to do just that.”
VFW Fourth District Auxiliary President Marsha LaRosh gave the closing remarks, saying that the ceremony is about more than just decorating graves.
“We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives,” LaRosh said. “Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful America.”
Many residents of Fort Riley and surrounding communities were in attendance for the ceremony and spent time placing wreaths all around the cemetery. Some of those were boy scouts from Troop 64 in Junction City. Assistant Scoutmaster Larry Taggart, a veteran himself, said he thought it was important for his scouts to experience the ceremony.
“We talk about a lot of the sacrifices [by soldiers], well this kind of puts a little tip on the point of the pen for them to see exactly what we’re talking about,” Taggart said.
Col. Shrader spoke with KMAN following the ceremony and said volunteers and donations from surrounding communities including Manhattan, Junction City, Keats, Riley and others made the observance possible.
“We can’t do it without the support of the local community,” Shrader said. “We’ve got scouts out here today, we’ve got business members out here today, we’ve got the VFW, the Daughters of American Veterans — it’s tremendous.”
The theme for 2018 was “be their witness,” inspired by a 2009 drama called “Taking Chance” based on the experience of a U.S. marine escorting the body of a fallen comrade. Last year, 1,560,000 wreaths were placed on graves at ceremonies around the world.