In national cemeteries across America the graves of hundreds of thousands of veterans will be adorned with Christmas wreaths during ceremonies set to take place simultaneously Saturday, Dec. 12.

Wreaths Across America is a tradition that began 18 years ago in Maine to recognize the service and sacrifice of veterans and their families. It has since spread across the country to include more than 400 national cemeteries, as well as 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil and several locations in Iraq.

The tradition began locally at Alton National Cemetery two years ago, through the efforts of Margaret Hopkins of Alton.

Hopkins describes the wreath laying ceremony, set to begin at 11 a.m. locally, as having much less to do with pomp, and more to do with circumstance.

From the beginning as colors are posted, to the end as taps are played, the ceremony takes about 30 minutes, she said.

"There are very few remarks," Hopkins said. "It's emotional."

Led by a Marine, wreaths are handed by scouts to veterans who lay them down one-by-one, 27 rows deep and 21 graves across. Within 10 minutes all 530 graves at Alton National will be decorated.

Cub Scout Packs 126 and 73 from St. Ambrose School in Godfrey and Girl Scout Troops 707 and 71 from St. Mary's School in Alton will assist in the wreath laying.

The East Alton American Legion Auxiliary Post 794 will provide hot chocolate and cookies.

Hopkins said the 20-inch light balsam wreaths cost $10 each and will be supplied locally by White's Greenhouse in Godfrey.

While fund-raising has not been completed for this year's lot, Hopkins said wreaths for all 530 graves in Alton National have been ordered "on faith" that donations will come forward.

Donations can be made to: Alton Wreaths Across America, P.O. Box 181, Alton, IL 62002.

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