Remember, Honor & Teach

Touching Wreaths Across America ceremonies at Cranfills Gap/Norse cemeteries continues tradition that reaches across the nation

Wreaths Across America’s mission is to “Remember, Honor and Teach” about the sacrifices made by veterans of the U.S. armed forces, whether in Normandy, Arlington, Virginia or Cranfills Gap, Texas. The organization’s slogan is to remember fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve and teach the youth the value of freedom.

How did this initiative start? In 1992, Maine wreath maker Morrill Worcester sought to turn a surplus of 5,000 holiday wreaths, into an opportunity to pay tribute to the country’s veterans. With the help of then Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, Worcester arranged for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery. The tradition continued on for more than a decade before national attention spurred the start of the 501c3 Wreaths Across America in 2007.

In Cranfills Gap, Grover McMains took the initiative three years ago to bring the WAA to Bosque County. And with the help of several dedicated volunteers, all the veterans’ graves at the St. Olaf’s Kirke, Boggy Cemetary and Cranfills Gap Cemetery were decorated with the beautiful WAA balsam fir wreaths Saturday, the National Wreaths Across America Day.

In total, 290 wreaths were placed with an additional 40 names on the books. With each wreath, the volunteers read the attached message “Today I placed a wreath on the grave of an American hero.”

Welcoming the volunteers at the first site, the St. Olaf’s Kirke, Cheryl Niemeier –explained the symbolism of the wreath.

Besides the ten special qualities all veterans embody, the actual wreath also has symbolism. The evergreen branches stand for longevity and endurance, the red bow for great sacrifice, the forest scent for purity and simplicity and the circle for eternity.

Niemeyer did a lot of the research on Cranfills Gap veterans for the Memorial Monument. Part of the donations for the wreaths went towards the monument.

Visiting their veteran Uncle Ralph (Townes) from Austin were six-year-old Dylan and 13-year-old Lincoln Duvall. Under the supervision of their Dad Chris and uncle, they gladly ran around the cemeteries, placing wreaths on graves marked with a U.S. flag – the flags waving proudly in the stiff breeze.

“I volunteer for this event, because I believe in my veterans,” Cranfills Gap resident and Vietnam Veteran James Gibbs said. Gibbs saluted each time he placed a wreath.

Besides honoring veterans on days like Saturday, he and his wife Karen take part in “Run for the Wall” group - the largest and longest organized cross-country motorcycle run that travel from California to Washington, DC (in four routes) every May with over 1,800+ participants annually.

Two Vietnam Veterans James Gregory and Bill Evans traveled across the heartland of America on motorcycles in 1989. They started The Run For The Wall® by talking to local radio statioins, TV and newspapers about the thousands of men and women still unaccounted for from all wars. The need for this awareness continues today and they carry on the cross-country tradition every May. Unfortunately, COVID-19 threw a wrench in the 2020 run.

Visiting her friend Belinda Prince in the Gap, Sharon Smoot is equally on a passionate mission. She intends to place 2021 new flags at cemeteries, schools, churches across all 50 states in 2021. She is proud of the American Stars and Stripes and hates to see a tattered and torn specimen, or even worse, a flagpole without a flag.

“It’s not a political thing,” Smoot said. “I love my country, and I love our flag. But our country is so divided right now, and I feel the flag is a symbol of our unity. I want to give that back, symbolically.”

She already has Hawaii covered, since she has plans to visit Pearl Harbor during the 80th anniversary of the attack by the Japanese Air Force. An additional motivation to make the long trip is that her dad served there during World War II.

An additional seven wreaths decorate the cemetery fences. Niemeyer added mini flags of the armed forces divisions and a flag for those Prisoners of War/Missing in Action to the wreaths. A separate flag for Prisoners of War and MIA soldiers was placed at the Cranfills Gap Veterans Memorial Monument Saturday too.

Several people, including Wally and Punky Penberthy, and Kathy and Steve Harr, are heading up the WAA project in Clifton. The first step this year was to place seven wreaths at the Clifton cemetery gates.

“We understand we have Veterans Day in the fall and Memorial Day in the spring, but our service members sacrifice their time and safety every single day of the year to preserve our freedoms,” the WAA website states. “In many homes, there is an empty seat for one who is serving or one who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. There is no better time to express our appreciation than during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We hope you will join us at any of our more than 2,100 participating locations to show our veterans and their families that we will not forget. We will never forget.”

In 2019, approximately 2.2 million wreaths were placed by veterans’ headstones. This year, the WAA them was “Be an American Worth Fighting For.” The inspiration for the theme came from a keynote address by Staff Sgt. Daniel Strong during the 2018 escort to Arlington.

“Be an American worth the sacrifice,” Strong said. “In your daily operations, and in how you deal with one another and how your live your lives. These young men and women who are in the Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries, they earned the right for you to be an American worth fighting for.”

People came out to honor a family veteran buried in the cemetery. Others came to pay a solemn and touching tribute to strangers who fought for democracy and the freedoms the United States enjoys today.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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