Graves in Alton National Cemetery honored with wreaths

Ann Knef Dec. 17, 2007, 9:55am

Remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and teach our children the value of freedom.

That's the simple promise behind a national effort to adorn the graves of veterans at national cemeteries at Christmas time.

In the freshly fallen snow at the Alton National Cemetery on Saturday, the graves of 530 veterans were honored with 20-inch light balsam wreaths, courtesy of a local organization of Wreaths Across America.

Within five minutes, the promise was fulfilled as Boy Scouts handed wreaths to veterans who laid them down one-by-one, 27 rows deep and 21 graves across.

The Alton project came to be through the efforts of local resident Margaret Hopkins who was inspired after viewing a TV program that told how "Wreaths" began at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992.

According to the Wreaths Across America website, Worcester Wreath Company (a for-profit commercial business from Harrington, Me.) began a tradition of placing wreaths on the headstones of the nation's fallen heroes at Arlington.

In 15 years, Worcester Wreath has donated 75,000 wreaths which are placed by volunteers in a wreath-laying ceremony each December.

After seeking the help of the cemetery's caretaker, veterans groups such as the Alton VFW Post 1380, and the community, Hopkins was ready to launch the project at Alton National Cemetery this year.

Hopkins, who provided the seed money for the project, ordered wreaths from White's Greenhouse in Alton by mid-October. On Dec. 7, a group of volunteers spent five hours making bows to fasten to the wreaths.

She said the weather was not cooperative during the ceremony -- the area was hit with the first "real" snowstorm in quite some time. But, she said, the snow made for quite a picturesque scene.

"I still get choked up," Hopkins said.

The cost of each wreath is approximately $8.50. Hopkins said donations are still being accepted. Any proceeds that exceed this year's cost will help to fund the project next year.

Donations may be mailed to: Alton Wreaths Across America, P.O. Box 181, Alton, Ill. 62002.

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