Veterans’ headstones at Oak Hill Cemetery to be adorned with wreaths as part of National Wreaths Across America Day
photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World
A couple of weeks from now, headstones scattered throughout Oak Hill Cemetery will be adorned with some new decorations — wreaths meant to honor fallen veterans.
At least some of those wreaths will be placed by Lawrence’s chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The group is participating in National Wreaths Across America Day on Saturday, Dec. 16, for the first time.
Wreaths Across America is a nationwide campaign that aims to “remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach the next generation the value of freedom” by helping local groups of volunteers procure honorary wreaths dedicated to veterans. It grew from an annual tribute conducted at Arlington National Cemetery. According to the campaign’s website, more than 2 million volunteers and supporters will gather for ceremonies across more than 4,000 participating locations in all 50 U.S. states — and even at sea and abroad.
This isn’t a new effort in Lawrence — the Wreaths Across America website lists two other groups that are participating this year. That includes Lawrence’s local Civil Air Patrol squadron, which is slated to place nearly 400 wreaths at Oak Hill Cemetery. One of Lawrence’s Knights of Columbus groups will also place about 100 wreaths at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery just outside Oak Hill’s entrance.
But it’s a new venture for Lawrence’s Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War chapter, which plans to focus specifically on Union grave markers. The Lawrence chapter is named after one of those veterans buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Sgt. Samuel Churchill, and members are planning to host a dedication ceremony before placing the wreaths at the cemetery at 11 a.m. on Dec. 16.
“We’ve never done this before,” Pat Myers, who led the committee to plan for the event, told the Journal-World Friday. “We thought it would be a good idea to do this this year just to honor the veterans — obviously we honor Civil War veterans — and it also raises a little bit of money for the camp, too.”
Myers said the chapter started small with its first stab at participating, setting a goal of 50 wreaths. They ended up getting close to that number; they’ll have 43 wreaths to place on Union veterans’ grave markers. A few of them will go on Churchill’s family plot, and Myers said many of the others will be placed at the 22 Union veteran headstones aligned in two rows not far away. Those graves are located right behind a larger monument that reads, in part, “dedicated to the memory of Union soldiers who sleep in unknown graves.”
Having other groups participating in National Wreaths Across America Day independently isn’t a bad thing; Myers estimated that there are at least 400 veterans buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, a difficult task for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to tackle alone.
Myers said the planning process began in June, when the group first considered participating, and he was chosen to head a committee including group members Mike Heck, John Shobe and Joe Bodine. Wreath sales followed a couple of months later in August; Myers asked members to reach out individually to a few contacts each in order to drum up donors. It costs $17 to sponsor a wreath, and the sponsorship group receives a $5 kickback.
Myers said the group is hoping to make participation in National Wreaths Across America Day an annual event, and to grow its outreach even more next time around. For starters, he said the goal for wreaths next year might be bumped up to 75 or even 100. The group has also discussed branching out to Maple Grove Cemetery, which is located just north of the city not far from Lawrence Regional Airport, in the future. That cemetery is home to another 50 or 60 Civil War veterans, Myers said.
“The first year, you just don’t have any idea what the participation’s going to be like,” Myers said. “… If we can go and maybe try to double (what we sold this time) next year or something like that.”