Fallen heroes remembered during Wreaths Across America event
Leavenworth The frozen grass and leaves crunched under Marissa and Vanessa Thurston’s feet as they stepped back from placing a wreath on a headstone at Leavenworth National Cemetery on Saturday morning.
Despite the bitter cold, the young sisters went back and forth from the frosty section of the cemetery to the truck, handing out wreaths adorned with red ribbons. The event, sponsored by Wreaths Across America, a national organization that distributes wreaths throughout the country on the same day every December, offered a dedicated time of remembrance for members of the armed services who have fallen and those who currently serve.
“This is like an experience of a lifetime,” said Marissa, 10.
Her father, Laurits Thurston, an Army veteran, said Saturday was the first time the family had attended the event.
“She was begging me to come up here this year,” Thurston said.
Marissa is a member of the third grade class at Basehor Intermediate School that helped raise money to sponsor wreaths. Her teacher and the organizer of the annual fundraiser, Michelle Ablard, said the kids sponsored more than 200 wreaths and contributed to a record total of wreaths donated in Leavenworth — more than 1,100.
Another member of Ablard’s class, Jacori Willis, 10, was selected to place a remembrance wreath in front of the “Fighting Fourth” Marine Monument during the event’s ceremony. Willis won an essay contest in Ablard’s class about freedom and what it means to her. She was allowed to choose the branch of the military to honor with a wreath. She chose the Army because her uncle served in the Army.
“The people (here) died and fought for us to keep us safe,” Willis said after placing the wreath, adding that she was shaking from a combination of nerves and the cold weather.
The ceremony began with a moment of silence to remember fallen soldiers. The wind whipped and a bell tolled as the crowd of about 300 stood in silence. The Basehor VFW Post 11499 then gave a 21-gun salute. Post Commander Phil Jenkins placed a remembrance wreath, one of the six, in front of the monument.
“As a veteran, placing wreaths on the graves, saying the names out loud and rendering a final salute authenticates that these soldiers are being recognized for what they did for our country and that we are speaking to them and telling them how much we appreciate their sacrifices,” Jenkins said.
Wreaths Across America began laying wreaths in 1992 and has since become a certified nonprofit organization. In 2012, Wreaths Across America placed more than 400,000 wreaths at 815 participating cemeteries in all 50 states. Ablard’s class has raised money for the organization for several years.
Current members of the military could be seen placing wreaths across the cemetery grounds, then standing back to salute and remember the name and story of the fallen soldier. Marissa and her sister Vanessa carefully placed each of their wreaths with the ribbon perfectly positioned before going back to get another.
“We should remember them every day, but this just really special,” Marissa said.