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Ceremony to honor veterans with wreaths

POSTED: December 8, 2013 10:31 p.m.

Saturday morning, local residents will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville honoring veterans, both past and present.

The event is part of the national organization Wreaths Across America, which coordinates ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, veterans cemeteries in all 50 states and in some foreign locations.

Event coordinator Elizabeth Mangum said the ceremony is about letting our veterans, living and deceased, know their service will not be forgotten.

“I love our flag, I love our military, and I love our country,” she said. “These people were all willing to lose their lives to defend their freedoms.

“That is something very special to me.”

The event will take place primarily around the former military section of the cemetery, which consists of 45 veteran grave sites. Event coordinators and members of local veterans organizations will talk about the sacrifices veterans have made and the importance of remembering them. Active-duty members of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force will present the ceremonial wreaths for their branch of service before attendants begin placing the individual wreaths.

Alta Vista Cemetery does not keep a record of veterans who are buried there, but according to the cemetery’s superintendent, Tommy Hunt, there are an estimated 1,200 veteran gravesites. Soldiers represented at the cemetery range from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War.

Mangum’s goal for the Wreaths Across America event is to place a wreath on the grave of every veteran in the cemetery.

“We have over 450 wreaths this year, which is up from 88 in 2012, our inaugural year in Gainesville,” she said. “This is an annual event, and we will continue to raise the bar each year until we can honor each veteran.”

At $15 per wreath, it would cost about $18,000 to reach that goal. However, that figure doesn’t faze Mangum who has three uncles that served in wars and are now buried in Alta Vista.

One uncle, Guy Gaither, was fighting in the Pacific during World War II when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, while another uncle, Thomas Leon Henson, witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps in Germany during the same war.

A third uncle, Dwight Pless, fought in Vietnam.

The wreaths are purchased through donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations.

The Civil Air Patrol has a long history of involvement with Wreaths Across America.

Gainesville’s own composite squadron successfully raised enough money to pay for more than 200 wreaths.

The ceremony will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday in the front section of the Alta Vista Cemetery at 521 Jones St. in Gainesville.

Donations can be made through the national organization’s website, or by contacting Mangum through email.

Those who wish to help can also attend the ceremony to help place wreaths, and can help with the cleanup, which will take place in January.


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