Veterans honored at Wreaths Across America ceremony

Published 1:23 am Sunday, December 17, 2017


NATCHEZ — Family members and loved ones of fallen veterans gathered on a cold mornning Saturday to lay wreaths and remember those who have died.

As Doug McCallister, president of the Miss-Lou Veterans Coalition, called approximately 400 names aloud, someone in the crowd stepped forward to receive a wreath for their grave.

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The Wreaths Across America project coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,100 national cemeteries across the nation.

The operation has included the Natchez National Cemetery for 12 years.

Though the wreath-laying was a solemn affair, few tears were shed.

The speaker for the event, Lt. Col. Jeff McClure, retired from the U.S. Army, quoted American writer and neuroscientist David Eagleman in his presentation:

“Someone once said the final death is the last time someone speaks your name,” McClure said. “When you place these wreaths, say the name of the person interred there, so they can be remembered.”

Adams County Supervisors Board President Mike Lazarus announced a resolution of appreciation to the Wreaths Across America coordinators, saying the program provides an incredible service to the town and to the nation.

Though some first-time wreath-layers were in the audience, many of the people gathered in the cemetery had come for years to remember their loved ones.

Taz Washington said she has come to the Wreaths Across America event every year for six years.

Washington comes to see her father, Robert Ellis, who served in the U.S. Army.

Though Washington said she comes to visit for every major holiday, she said something special exists in the wreath-laying celebration.

“You’re here with so many people who are going through the same thing,” Washington said. “You miss your loved ones. And even though it’s been 18 years, you never really get closure.”

The ceremony, she said, lets her know she is not alone in that feeling.

Saturday was Maryland Alexander Turner’s first time to lay wreaths in the cemetery, but she said her Zeta Phi Beta sorority sisters have volunteered to honor veterans for the last 12 years.

“It’s very important to remember our veterans, and what they did to keep us free,” Alexander-Turner said. “Free to come out here and laugh and love each other, like now.”

For Sara Jenkins, the Wreaths Across America program has a secondary purpose: Teaching the next generation to respect and honor military service.

Jenkins kept a watchful eye on her excited 3-year-old, Everett.

Everett ran along the sides of the wreaths that had been laid out, softly touching the greenery.

“We’ve come every year,” Jenkins said. “The kids look forward to it.”

Mayor Darryl Grennell said the first year Natchez held Wreaths Across America, only seven wreaths were laid.

That number has grown each year, but Grennell said he hopes one day to be able to place a wreath on each of the 5,000 graves in the cemetery.

“We can only do that together,” Grennell said. “It’s important that we remember our fallen veterans, that we tell our living veterans and active servicemen that we appreciate their service. Today is a reminder of that.”