The graves at Olney Cemetery normally sit in peaceful environs disturbed only by the muffled noise of passing cars.
On Sunday, a bugle playing “Taps” pierced the hush. The Wreaths for Remembrance ceremony, which also included Christmas music, a reading and the posting of the colors by two members of Let ‘er Buck Post 922, was a preamble to the main purpose of the gathering — laying wreaths on the graves of veterans buried in the sprawling Pendleton cemetery.
Before sending his contingent of teenagers forth, Griswold history teacher Lorin Kubishta instructed his students to pause after laying each wreath and say the veteran’s name.
“A person does not truly die until their name is never spoken again,” Kubishta said.
Armed with cemetery maps, the teens started at the cemetery’s American Legion section then dispersed far and wide around the grounds looking for veterans’ graves. Community members paid $20 apiece for the ribbon-festooned wreaths. Students set them gently at the base of each gravestone.
Senior Alyssa Keene took Kubishta’s advice, thinking about each veteran and saying his or her name either silently or aloud.
“It was really an honor,” Keene said. “These were men and women who have fought and sacrificed so much for our country.”
The Griswold High School Euro Club started the Wreaths for Remembrance project eight years ago. They laid 64 wreaths that year and slowly built the program to about 200 in 2017. Some year, they hope to sell enough to adorn all 1,000-or-so veterans’ graves at Olney. The Helix tribute is modeled after Wreaths Across America, an event that started with the laying of 5,000 at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992.
“It comes down to gratitude,” Kubishta said.
The wreath laying, he said, nudges the students away from a self-centered culture and focuses them on others.
“It gets them into a cemetery where they have to get out in the cold and feel uncomfortable,” he said. “They get to give back a little bit and do something not for themselves.”
Last year, several inches of snow on the ground made identifying graves extremely difficult. This time, things went smoothly.
During the ceremony, senior Kailey Mize sang two songs with origins in World War II: “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 941-966-0810.