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Old 12-16-2018, 07:47 AM
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Thumbs up Thousands place wreaths on veterans graves at Saratoga National Cemetery

Thousands place wreaths on veterans graves at Saratoga National Cemetery
By: Joseph Tingley Special to The Post-Star Dec 16, 2018 Updated 1 hr ago

SARATOGA — On Saturday morning, thousands of volunteers, current military and cemetery staff braved the cold to meet in the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery to lay wreaths on the graves of the veterans buried there. The ceremony was part of a nationwide program called Wreaths Across America, which places wreaths on the graves of veterans across the country every Dec. 15.

Lt. Col. Anita Martin of the Civil Air Patrol was one of the event coordinators for Saratoga National Cemetery’s observance of the commemoration, which is meant to be a day to remember for those who have served in the military and their families.

Martin said that this year’s observance had more than 2,000 volunteers signed up, and that more usually show up than expected to do their part. She said this time of year especially, it is important to honor and remember those who served — and continue to serve — in the armed forces.

“This is a time when it comes to mind the service of our veterans,” Martin said.

The ceremony— which preceded the wreath laying —began at noon, five minutes before the ceremony, thousands had already arrived, and traffic remained backed up for miles, according to one volunteer.

Cadet Second Lieutenant Hope McHenry of the Civil Air Patrol Cadets was among those who spoke at the ceremony. During her remarks, McHenry said it is important to remember the freedoms we enjoy as Americans were not given, but earned, and the sacrifice of our veterans must not be forgotten.

“Today, we show a united front across the United States of America, to honor the fallen,” McHenry said.

Shortly before the program concluded, and volunteers scattered to lay their wreaths, McHenry encouraged each volunteer to write down the name and information of one of the veterans buried in the cemetery, and to research their service. She said it is important to remember that behind each grave there is a service member, a family and a story.

“You will find out that they were real Americans with families,” McHenry said.

Lt. Col. Dave Panzera of the U.S. Air Force — who formerly served as a member of the 109th Air Lift Wing based in Schenectady — also spoke at the ceremony and said the project was not only a way to honor the veterans buried in the cemetery, but to pass on a legacy to younger generations.

Panzera said that such an event would not have been possible without the work of the thousands volunteers and expressed his appreciation for their assistance.

“What dedication to be out here in the cold,” Panzera said. “They are here because they are grateful, patriotic Americans.”

Allen and Joyce Bartlett were two of the volunteers who signed up to assist with the ceremony. Joyce said they have attended the ceremony before, but this was their first year volunteering.

“It’s nice to come and honor everybody,” Joyce said.

In addition to laying a wreath on the grave, volunteers were encouraged to say the veterans name aloud. Panzera said that in doing so, every volunteer was, in a way, meeting a veteran and thanking them.

As the ceremony concluded, volunteers began to spread out across the cemetery to place more than 12,000 wreaths.

At the cemeteries columbarium, Trevor and Teagan Ketcham placed a wreath on the grave of their grandfather, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

“He was a big part of our lives and he taught us about the importance of the military and service,” Teagan said.

Trevor Ketcham followed in his grandfather’s footsteps. He is now a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, and said his grandfather’s lessons and service were a large part of his decision to enlist.

Among the volunteers present for the ceremony and wreath laying, were Junior ROTC cadets from the La Salle Institute, a college-preparatory school in North Greenbush. Cadet Sergeant Ryan Patrick said it was an honor to be part of the day’s ceremonies.

“It’s really special to take part … giving back to those people who paid the ultimate price for us,”Patrick said.

Marin said that while this year the program placed more than 12,000 wreaths, the cemetery continues to grow. She said every year about 1,000 graves are added to the cemetery, which puts financial pressure on the project to purchase enough wreaths, each of which costs approximately $15.

“If you are a fundraising group, please help us take the pressure off … next year, we need 13,000 wreaths,” Martin said.

The Wreaths Across America Project began in 1992 in Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, the organization has expanded its reach to include over 1,000 sites around the country, according to the organizations website.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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