For many, the holidays represent a time of peace.
Families and friends gather to feast and share in warm celebration as winter grips the nation.
While abundant festivities flood the calendar, few are hosted in honor of those who spent their lives securing and protecting that peace. A few local organizations, including Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and Veterans of Foreign Wars, decided to change that with a ceremony and several hundred wreathes.
“Wreathes Across America’s philosophy is remember, honor and teach,” said Karen Bienz, the flight commander for the CAP Laramie Valley Composite Flight. “It’s about teaching our young people about the sacrifices made for our freedom.”
Wreathes Across America is a national movement dedicated to celebrating the memory of America’s veterans. Participating organizations solicit sponsors for wreathes provided by Wreathes Across America, which splits the funds raised with the organizations.
On Saturday, Bienz’s cadets joined the DAR, VFW, community members and veterans at Greenhill Cemetery in decorating veterans graves.
“We did this last year with a small ceremony, but the weather was miserable and the wreathes weren’t delivered on time, so we’re pretty excited about this year’s ceremony,” Bienz said.
With origins dating back to 1936, CAP is an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and nonprofit organization focused on aviation and search and rescue efforts. Youths ages 13-18 are eligible for the organization’s cadet program, while adults can enroll in CAP’s senior member cadre.
Bienz said the Laramie Valley Composite Flight discovered Wreathes Across America about three years ago and started participating in 2017.
CAP Cadet Capt. Parker Knerr said the organization partnered with the Jacques Laramie DAR chapter this year, which helped the wreathes initiative grow exponentially.
“Last year, we were just trying to get our feet under us,” the 18-year-old said. “So, this year feels like a good step forward.”
In 2017, the Laramie Valley Composite Flight raised funds for 80 wreathes, placing them in Greenhill. Although the DAR’s local chapter also participated in the initiative, the two organization’s were unaware of each other’s efforts, and the DAR’s wreathes were sent to Evansville and placed in the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery.
This year, the two organizations partnered with VFW Post No. 2221, raising enough funds to purchase 540 wreathes.
“The partnership has worked out very well,” said Karen Lange, DAR Jacques Laramie Chapter treasurer. “There’s been an outpouring of support throughout our community for this event.”
Most of the wreathes were placed in Greenhill Cemetery, Bienz said, where about 1,700 military veterans are buried. The remaining wreathes were placed in the Harmony Cemetery, at the World War I Memorial near the Albany County Courthouse and at the Vietnam War Memorial on the University of Wyoming campus.
Unlike national veteran holidays, which can often be celebrated casually, Knerr said he enjoyed the formal ceremony of Wreathes Across America.
“I think it’s good that it’s a more formalized celebration than say the other holidays that support veterans,” he explained. “With CAP you have more exposure to the military, and you can see their sacrifice, so Wreathes Across America allows us a chance to honor that in a ceremonial way.”
Having joined CAP about four years ago because of its aviation program, Knerr said Wreathes Across America is a good tie-in with the organization’s focus on civil service, and he was honored he and his fellow cadets would serve as the ceremony’s color guard.
Bienz said, in planning the event, the organizers focused more on the act of remembering than simply adorning graves with festive decor.
“We say the soldiers name, take a pause to thank him for his service and place the wreathe — it is intended to be very ceremonial,” she said. “The point is not to decorate graves. The point is to honor veterans.”
For DAR, Lange said the event was an opportunity to partner with and support likeminded organizations.
“We have a variety of interests and focuses from conservation to women’s issues, but one of our main objectives is to foster patriotic citizenship,” she said. “Wreathes Across America supports our veterans, so it was kind of a natural fit.”
With the holiday season in full swing, Bienz, Knerr and Lange said it was a perfect time to brave the elements in memory of those who braved far worse in service to their nation.
“My dad was veteran of World War II, my grandfather — WWI, my great-great grandfather — the Civil War — and my husband and our son also served in the military, so I have a real connection to those who served our country,” Lange said. “It’s a big honor to see people honoring those memories and sacrifices, and I think this is the perfect time of year to do so.”