A child, at top, looks down at the wreaths decorating the headstones at the Natchez National Cemetery at a recent Wreaths Across America event.
A child, at top, looks down at the wreaths decorating the headstones at the Natchez National Cemetery at a recent Wreaths Across America event.

Wreaths Across America aims to decorate every veteran’s grave

Published 12:05am Sunday, November 17, 2013

Natchez veteran Oscar Seyfarth would love to see every veteran’s grave at the Natchez National Cemetery adorned with a wreath this Christmas season.

And though he accepts that his goal may be unrealistic, every covered grave is one step closer.

Seyfarth is calling for the Miss-Lou to rally with wreaths and use them to remember, honor and teach about America’s — and the Miss-Lou’s — war dead.

For the last 10 years, Seyfarth has been involved with Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization dedicated to laying wreaths on the cemetery headstones of veterans every December.

“What we want to do is remember those veterans who paid the ultimate price for the freedom we have today and honor their families who are forever without their loved ones and teach our children that freedom is not free,” Seyfarth said.

This year, Wreaths Across America will happen simultaneously across the country at 11 a.m. Dec. 14. At that time, there will be a short ceremony at the Natchez National Cemetery, which will end with the placing of the wreaths on the graves of veterans.

Seyfarth is seeking sponsorships for as many wreaths to place in the Miss-Lou as possible — the cost is $15 per wreath — and he needs to have orders in by the end of the month.

“If someone has a loved one who is a veteran and wishes to place a wreath on their headstone personally, they can contact me and provide me with the veteran’s name and the cost of the wreath,” Seyfarth said.

“At the end of the ceremony I will call the family of each veteran up and give them the wreath so they can place it on the headstone itself.”

The Natchez National Cemetery has more than 8,000 headstones in it, but Seyfarth said he knows other veterans are buried in other area cemeteries. Family members of veterans buried in other cemeteries can contact Seyfarth and order a wreath, he said.

“We had around 700 wreaths last year, and that’s just a drop in the bucket,” he said. “I know I will never see a wreath on every veteran’s headstone, but I would love to see what I could.”

Wreaths Across America got its start in 1992, when Morrill Worchester of the Worchester Wreath Company produced more holiday wreaths than were needed, and had thousands of extra wreaths left over at the end of the holiday season.

Inspired by a trip to Arlington National Cemetery he took when he was a boy, Worchester donated 5,000 of the wreaths to be placed on headstones at the cemetery.

As word spread about Worchester’s donation, others wanted to make a similar gesture at their local national cemetery.

“Everybody decided they would like to do the same thing, and so (Worchester) decided that anybody who was interested and signed up for them, he would provide each cemetery with seven wreaths free of charge, one for each branch of the military, one for the prisoners of war-missing in action and one for the merchant marines,” Seyfarth said.

“Then everybody started asking how we could get more, so they started purchasing the wreaths from the manufacturer.”

Seyfarth became involved with the movement in 2003 when an acquaintance from Jackson signed up the Natchez National Cemetery to receive the seven free wreaths as the only national cemetery for central Mississippi.

“My brother and I met him at Walmart and rode out the national cemetery and had a brief ceremony before we placed the ceremonial wreaths,” Seyfarth said.

“After that year, for whatever reason he decided he couldn’t do it, so he called me and asked if I could do the ceremony.”

Since then, Seyfarth has volunteered his time for the annual project, and any expenses he accrues are his own.

“I firmly believe every penny donated to wreaths should be applied to wreaths,” he said.

A 20-year military man — Seyfarth retired from the Air Force in 1984 — the project isn’t just an abstraction to him. He’s got a daughter buried in the national cemetery — she died in 2002 of service-related injuries — along with two brothers, a brother-in-law and a cousin.

“It gives me great pride in being able to be associated with the program and to know we are honoring those who paid the ultimate price,” he said. “Whether they paid it on the battlefield or later, they gave their lives in some way for us to have the freedom we enjoy.”

One of the greatest things about the program is the opportunity to get more children involved, Seyfarth said.

“When they come out there and place these wreaths on those headstones and see these names of those veterans, it touches those children,” he said. “And that’s our goal, to remember, to honor and to teach.”

For more information about the program, contact Seyfarth at 601-807-1576 or visit wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Wreaths can also be sponsored online, and during the order can be specified to be sent to the Natchez National Cemetery.