ORLANDO – Across the green field, there were flags flying, and on the ground, wreaths waiting to be placed somewhere.
There was a strong feeling of patriotism at the event, as veterans joined with active duty personnel representing every branch of the Armed Services.
There was also something else clearly in sight, though: the graves and tombstones that can be seen everywhere one looks across Greenwood Cemetery. It was a reminder, Jim Nickles said, of the fact that in defending this nation over the past decades, some soldiers had paid the ultimate price.
“We are gathered here today to remember that we are one nation under one flag, but the freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price,” said Nickles, representing the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the Vice Flotilla Commander of the 17-11 Division 17 Public Education Staff.
Looking out at the large crowd that gathered at Greenwood Cemetery, Nickles said he hoped the children attending this event would come away with an appreciation of what it means to defend one’s nation and the ideals of freedom and democracy.
“To our children, we want you to understand that the freedoms you enjoy today did not come without a price,” he said.
On Saturday, the City of Orlando’s Mayor’s Veterans Advisory Council honored the City Beautiful’s veterans during the holiday season as part of the annual Wreaths Across America Day.
Specially designated wreaths for the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and POW/MIA were placed on memorials during the ceremony.
“Please join me in a moment of silence for our fallen soldiers,” Nickles said at the opening of the ceremony. Then he noted that Americans would not be able to participate in events like this one without the sacrifices made by members of the Armed Services.
Because of them, “We can raise our children to believe as we do,” he said. “We are free to vote for whoever we believe should be in office.”
The members of the Armed Services, he said, continue to defend this nation to uphold the ideals of freedom, justice and equality.
“America has always been the first nation to stand up for freedom around the world,” he said. “We thank those that gave their lives to keep us free, and we shall not forget you.”
Catherine Haynes, a member and supporter of numerous veterans and military organizations who attended the ceremony, noted that it was being coordinated simultaneously at more than 750 participating locations all across the country.
“Many cemeteries across the country – the national cemeteries, private and public – have committees that observe this same tribute,” she said.
The Wreaths Across America project began more than 20 years ago when the Worcester Wreath Company from Harrington, Maine initiated a tradition of donating and placing wreaths on the headstones of the nation’s fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, more than 400,000 wreaths nationwide will be placed in all 50 states, and at 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil.
“Today, we show a united front of national unity all across the nation,” Nickles said, adding that it was also a fitting way to pay tribute to those soldiers still on active duty.
“These men and women are part of the best trained and best equipped team in the world,” Nickles said. “If you meet one of them, stop and thank them. We owe them our way of life, and a moment of your time to thank them is well spent.”
He invited the veterans, active duty personnel and volunteers attending the ceremony to place 600 wreaths on the graves of local heroes located throughout Greenwood Cemetery, saying “The wreaths before you represent a commitment by the United States to honor the fallen.”
He also had a special request for the people in the audience, something he hoped they would do before leaving the cemetery.
“We would ask you to take a moment and visit a gravesite,” Nickles said. Then, he asked them to write down their information, and when they get home, research them.
“You will find they were real Americans,” he said. “They were, and are, most than just a statistic.”
Haynes said a ceremony like this is an emotionally powerful way to honor the nation’s soldiers.
“It was wonderful, so incredibly touching, and quite a tribute to those who have fallen,” Haynes said.
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