SALISBURY — Susan McClamrock fought back tears as she placed a wreath in honor and memory of members of the U.S. Army at the Salisbury National Cemetery annex Saturday.
But as she took her seat, the Concord resident dropped her head and began to cry as Jeff Dixon, a member of the Crossed Rifles Motorcycle Club, consoled her quietly.
McClamrock’s son, James, was killed in action in Iraq on Sept. 7, 2010. He was 22.
She participates in the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony as a way to pay tribute to her son.
“It’s just a time we can come out here and honor his memory and also show support for all the veterans that are here,” she said. “It’s a hard day for us because it reminds us why we’re here, but sometimes we do those things that are a little bit tough just because they need to be done.”
Wreaths Across America ceremonies took place across the country and in Europe at more than 800 grave sites Saturday.
“Today we show a united front of national unity all across the United States of America as we remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom,” said Ronnie Faggart, state captain for the Patriot Guard of North Carolina.
Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization created to continue and expand the annual holiday wreath laying that began at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992.
During the ceremony, Gold Star families presented wreaths to honor those who served in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, as well as prisoners of war and the missing in action.
Gold Star designation is given to immediate family member of fallen service members by the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The words gold star do not roll easily off my tongue,” Faggart said. “I thank these families for the sacrifices they’ve made, the loss they’ve suffered and the fortitude to come out today to be here with us.”
After the wreaths were placed, members of the Marine Corps fired three shots during a rifle salute and taps was played on a bugle.
Faggart spoke to an audience of several hundred people who gathered in a semi-circle holding America flags.
“The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality. 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 freedom and we shall not forget you.”
Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson thanks those in attendance for their “extreme sacrifice to keep our democratic way of life.”
“We will always be indebted to all of you gentleman and women who serve in our military,” he said. “Wreaths Across America is a day of remembrance that must be kept alive for future generations. There’s always a feeling of awe and reverence as we stand here in this field of white markers and remember those many, many generations …. who died to keep our country free.”
McClamrock said events like Saturday’s ceremony help keep military families close.
“Even though our lives are very different … we share a common thread, we have all lost a loved one in a war or through service.
“It’s a good way to keep us all grounded and bonded even if it’s just once a year.”
McClamrock said this time of year is especially hard for families who have lost a loved one.
“Christmas to me is about family. I want everyone that I love there, but we don’t get that,” she said. “So we do other things. I’m going today to decorate a grave with a Christmas tree. That’s not where a Christmas tree should go but, but I’m still going to set one up because when people come by there I want them to say, ‘You know what, somebody loved that person, somebody remembered that person.’ ”
More than 1,000 live wreaths decorated with a bright red bow were placed on headstones throughout the cemetery Saturday.
The Salisbury High School Air Force JROTC presented the colors during the ceremony and also placed wreaths at the old National Cemetery off South Railroad Street.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.