Wreaths honor service

Published 12:03 am Sunday, December 11, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Ceairra Franklin, 6, salutes before placing a wreath on a soldier’s grave.

NATCHEZ — Dozens of soldiers’ family members, veterans and community members laid wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers during the Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Natchez National Cemetery Saturday.

Josephine Hawkins gathered with her family to honor her husband Samuel, who died last year, and her son Casey Johnson, who died in February. Both men were U.S. Army veterans.

Josephine Hawkins embraces her granddaughter Cassie Johnson, 12, during the Wreaths Across America ceremony Saturday morning at the Natchez National Cemetery.

Tears streamed down Hawkins face as she bent down to place the evergreen wreath with a red bow on her husband’s grave.

“I’m honored to be here, and I’m thankful that I am able to come here and honor him,” she said.

Alberta Johnson, Casey’s wife, was overcome with emotion as she laid a wreath on her husband’s grave.

“I’m sad,” she said hugging her 12-year-old daughter Cassie. “But this is an honor.”

Cassie said she knew her dad was watching over her, and she said she knows he is proud she laid a wreath in his honor.

“It makes me feel happy,” Cassie said as she wiped tears away from her eyes.

Josephine’s daughter Addie Hooper said she was glad to honor her brother and stepfather, and said she was happy she could gather with other families who had lost loved ones who had served in the armed forces.

“We’re all honored by the sacrifices they made for not only us, their families, but for this whole nation,” Hooper said.

The Wreaths Across America program held ceremonies at national cemeteries all across the nation Saturday, including the one at the Natchez cemetery.

The Natchez High School R.O.T.C. presented the colors at the ceremony. Wreaths were placed on stands to honor those who served and are serving the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Merchant Marines and soldiers whose last known status was prisoner of war or missing in action.

Wreaths were placed on the tombstones of soldiers.

U.S. Air Force Veteran Oscar Seyfarth, coordinator of the Wreaths Across America program at the national cemetery, said the soldiers will never be forgotten.

“Our nation stands as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom to the world,” he said. “We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free, and we shall not forget you. We shall remember.”

Seyfarth said the freedoms Americans enjoy have not come without a price.

“Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear,” he said.

Mayor Jake Middleton and Chancery Clerk Tommy O’Berine were at the ceremony representing the Natchez Board of Aldermen and the Adams County Board of Supervisors.

Craig Moore, director of the Department of Veteran Affairs Regional Office in Jackson, said the ceremony shows that Americans cherish the service and sacrifice of their soldiers.

“I pause to remember the words that are displayed here, ‘The price of freedom is visible here,’” he said. “And I know the price of freedom truly is visible here.”