Fort McClellan prepares for Wreaths Across America ceremony - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Fort McClellan prepares for Wreaths Across America ceremony

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Soldiers and volunteers unload about 400 wreaths delivered directly from Maine. Soldiers and volunteers unload about 400 wreaths delivered directly from Maine.
The ceremony at Fort McClellan military cemetery is at 11 a.m. Saturday, December 14. The ceremony at Fort McClellan military cemetery is at 11 a.m. Saturday, December 14.
The graves of two Jewish soldiers have prayer stones instead of wreaths, "out of consideration for the faith tradition, that they prefer something that is God-made as opposed to a wreath that is man-made." The graves of two Jewish soldiers have prayer stones instead of wreaths, "out of consideration for the faith tradition, that they prefer something that is God-made as opposed to a wreath that is man-made."
First stop Maine.  Second stop Fort McClellan.

More than 400 fresh wreaths arrived straight from The Pine Tree State early Thursday morning.  There will be a wreath-laying ceremony there Saturday morning.

The green holiday decorations are part of the Wreaths Across America program, which has the goal of placing a wreath on every grave in military cemeteries.

"Back in 1992, a company in Maine had an overrun.  They had too many wreaths so they sent a batch to Arlington [National Cemetery] for display in the holiday season," Army veteran Michael Abrams said.

"They started doing that year after year after year.  Several years later there was a photograph put on the Internet and the idea caught on like a wildfire."

Over the past two decades, the program expanded to more than 800 cemeteries in the United States and some overseas.  The participating organizations and cemeteries host a ceremony on the second-to-last Saturday before Christmas every year.

Abrams is on the wreath committee for Fort McClellan Military Cemetery.  They will place 353 wreaths on graves Saturday.  There will be an additional seven wreaths to symbolize the different branches and services of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as the Merchant Marines and Prisoners of War/Missing in Action.

Two of the graves will not receive wreaths, because those veterans were Jewish and have the star of David on the headstones instead of the cross that is on most of the others.

"We're going to put a prayer stone on top of the headstone, out of consideration for the faith tradition, that they prefer something that is God-made as opposed to a wreath that is man-made," Abrams said.

The ceremony is Saturday at 11 a.m. at the military cemetery at Fort McClellan.  Abrams said if it rains, they will hold a silent ceremony indoors "for those who are silent eternally."  A bugler will play Taps.

There will also be ceremonies in Hoover, Gadsden, Montevallo, and Huntsville.  You can search for a Wreaths Across America event in your community by using an interactive map on their web site.

The wreaths arrived on two tractor-trailers driven from Maine to Alabama.  Ken Johnson drove one of the trucks, which are provided by Load One, a trucking company based in Michigan.  Johnson comes from a military family.

"My father was in the Korean War.  I have a brother that just retired from the Navy and my son is in the Air Force," Johnson said.

"It's an honor to do this.  It's kind of a tear-jerker," he said.

"We need more support.  We need more donations.  We need more wreaths on all the veterans' graves."

For Master Sergeant Robert O'Day, the ceremony will help him pay tribute to his father, who served in the Navy.

"My dad was a veteran and I can't get to his graveside, so in a way it's a proper way to show respect to him too," O'Day said.

The Fort McClellan military cemetery is now closed for burials except for people whose family members are already interred there.  Abrams said there are several people in the community who have loved ones at the cemetery, and veterans in Anniston who served with some of the men and women buried there.

"This is a perfect opportunity for all of us to show respect and love to those who have served before us," Abrams said.

"The people who have served, whether we know them or not, whether we're related to them or not, whether they're our neighbor or not, they are due our respect and our admiration," Abrams said.

"This is a perfect opportunity for all of us in the community to show respect to the military in general by visiting this cemetery in particular."
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