The Wreaths Across America Day program was held at Deer Park Methodist Cemetery in Smallwood on Saturday December 16, 2017.
In solidarity with 1,300 cemeteries across the nation, Deer Park Methodist Cemetery in Smallwood became the first-ever Carroll County organization to participate in the national Wreaths Across America program Saturday, honoring almost 150 veterans’ graves with donated evergreen wreaths.
“Today, we show a united front of gratitude and respect across the United States of America as we remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom,” said organizer Mel Blizzard, Deer Park Methodist Cemetery’s Board of Trustees president.
According to Wreaths Across America spokesperson Amber Caron, the annual wreath-laying ceremony was started by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Through his company, Worcester Wreath Co., he originally donated 5,000 wreaths to honor veterans. In 2005, an iconic photo of the wreaths in snow became a viral sensation and Wreaths Across America formed as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2007.
“We understand we have Veterans Day in the fall and Memorial Day in the spring, but our service members sacrifice their time and safety every single day of the year to preserve our freedoms,” Caron said. “In many homes, there is an empty seat for one who is serving or one who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. There is no better time to express our appreciation than during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.”
For the Deer Park Methodist Cemetery service, Blizzard said Wreaths Across America donated seven wreaths to represent each branch of the armed forces and those missing in action. Members of the community donated 140 wreaths.
Blizzard said the wreaths, all of which were placed at the Deer Park cemetery, are not meant to simply decorate the graves.
“We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation, from a grateful America,” Blizzard said. “These live balsam wreaths symbolize our honor to those who have served and are serving in the armed forces of our great nation and to their families who endure sacrifices every day on our behalf. To our children, we want you to understand the freedoms you enjoy today have not been free but have come with a cost that someday, you may have to pay yourself. As a nation standing together, we can defeat terrorism, hatred, and injustice. Thanks to our veterans, we have the freedom to do just that.”
Jeff Bridner, of Smallwood, was one of the ceremony’s wreath donors.
“It’s a way to honor veterans more than just on Memorial Day and Veterans Day,” Bridner said. “I’ve always supported the military. My dad served in the military and growing up, I was around a lot of WWII veterans and heard a lot of stories. I think people kind of forget the sacrifices made by people in the military and an event like this keeps the memory of our veterans alive so they’re not forgotten.”
“We do something every year to give back to the community,” said Chad Baker, one of the team’s coaches. “We wanted to go to Arlington but getting there as a team was difficult. When we heard they had it local, it was the perfect opportunity to have kids remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and teach them about freedom and what it means. We just hope they get a better understanding that freedom comes at a price and that we should honor those that have fought for our country.”