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Old 12-16-2017, 10:50 AM
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Thumbs up Wreaths Across America honors thousands of veterans at Agawam cemetery

Wreaths Across America honors thousands of veterans at Agawam cemetery
By Shannon Young 12-16-17

AGAWAM -- Hundreds of volunteers turned out to Veterans' Memorial Cemetery Saturday to honor and lay wreaths at the graves of local residents who served in the U.S. Military.

The annual Wreaths Across America event laid a total of 6,579 wreaths at grave sites throughout the Agawam cemetery, said organizer Gina Willette.

Local residents, veterans groups, Boy Scout troops and others braved frigid temperatures to partake in what Willette, a Military Order of the Purple Heart member, described as "a real big community event."

"It doesn't matter who you're affiliated with, or even if you know a veteran who's buried here, people can come and honor the veterans," she said in an interview. "We really want people to know, even if you can't give monetarily, you can come and put the wreath down and honor that veteran."

Volunteers who participated in the 2017 event, which coincided with similar wreath layings across the country, were asked to take wreaths one-by-one to grave sites throughout the cemetery, place them and say the veteran's name aloud to honor his or her service.

For graves that did not receive a wreath due to religious preferences or other reasons, volunteers were instructed to still honor the veteran by saying his or her name aloud and offering a salute.

Kelly Fedora Doktor, of Westfield, said she has helped lay wreaths at the event for the last five years to help honor the veterans' military service.

"My dad's a veteran, his brother is buried here, so we make sure that we get a wreath to his first every single year," she said. "It's important to say their names and when you walk up to the graves to say their names, that means they will always live on."

Fedora Doktor added that it's important for her to take part in the event regardless of the weather conditions.

"Last year was a blizzard, I wouldn't trade it for the world," she said. "It's not about if we're cold, it's about remembering them."

Debbie Hutchinson, an Enfield, Connecticut resident who also helped lay wreaths at the event, said she felt it was "a good thing to do."

"I have two military (service members) in my family and my father's a veteran," she said. "This is just a good thing to do."

By using live wreaths, which individuals and businesses sponsored for $15, the nonprofit organization seeks to remember veterans' lives, not to focus on their deaths, Willette said.

The wreaths laid at the 2017 event, she noted, exceeded the 4,300 placed last year, but fell just 2,000 shy of filling the entire cemetery.

Willet said Wreaths Across America hopes to fill the cemetery in 2018 and has already begun collecting donations from individuals and businesses to achieve that goal.

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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