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Wreaths Across America honors those who served

By Rebecca Rider
For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — It was a somber scene Saturday in the Historic Salisbury National Cemetery. A cold rain poured down and soaked the gravestones. But the mood didn’t deter those who came to pay their respects.

“We figured that they fought in worse weather than this,” said Shelley Rusk. “They endured more than this.”

Bright green and red Christmas wreaths were already laid against several white headstones. At noon, the ceremony for Wreaths Across America officially began. Queenie Williams, cemetery director and a retired Army major, said she and other volunteers got a head start because of the weather.

“So I wanted to put down a few,” she said, gesturing at the rain.

Wreaths Across America is an annual national observance that honors and remembers veterans. On Saturday, more than 1,100 national cemeteries across the U.S. participated. It’s a way to pay respects to the fallen, as well as to give support to their families.

“It’s to let families know that we have not forgotten,” Williams said.

It’s a sentiment that did not go unappreciated by those who attended. Rusk said she came to honor family members who served. While Rusk doesn’t have any relatives buried in Salisbury’s cemetery, some were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Rusk also has family members who are currently serving.

Dale Aldred, an Army veteran, came with his wife, Pat. While the couple don’t have any family buried in Salisbury, they wanted to remember the veterans they knew who fell in past wars.

“We both lost lots of friends in Vietnam,” Aldred said.

When organizers asked if there were any Army veterans in the crowd who would be willing to lay a wreath as part of the ceremony, Aldred raised his hand. He said it was an honor to remember fellow veterans in such a way.

“They always say in the Army never to volunteer for anything … but this time I’m glad I did,” he said.

Others came in support of friends, including Brian and Karen Jacobsen. The couple, who live in Winston-Salem, came with their Sunday school class to support a fellow church member.

Wreaths Across America also focuses on teaching younger generations about the sacrifices of those who have gone before, and the Jacobsens say that goal hits close to home.

“We’re both teachers, and we teach our students about the sacrifices these men and women have made,” Karen said.

The observance also gives them hope for the future. The couple has a son in the Marines, and, while a cemetery isn’t the cheeriest of settings, Karen said seeing the support and respect others have for military men and women is heartening.

“We know he’ll have to make sacrifices, too,” Karen said.

But she knows he’ll have the support of his country behind him.

The Historic Salisbury National Cemetery, off Railroad Street, has been participating in Wreaths Across America since 2006. While the number of sponsored wreaths has steadily grown, Williams said, the cemetery is still falling short of placing a wreath on every grave.

This year, the crowd placed 1,548 wreaths — but the cemetery has more than 7,000 graves. Williams and others dream of a day when that’s no longer an issue.

“I just wish we had enough wreaths to lay on everybody’s grave,” Aldred said.

Those interested in sponsoring a wreath can visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org, and search for Historic Salisbury National Cemetery.

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