Balsam fir wreaths honoring America’s fallen veterans were placed on graves in La Plata County’s cemeteries Saturday as part of National Wreaths Across America Day. A ceremony honoring local veterans was held by American Heritage Girls Troop CO2517 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars at Greenmount Cemetery in Durango
“The importance (of the event) is to remember, honor and teach,” said Troop CO2517 coordinator Heather Drake. “To remember the fallen veterans, to honor them and to teach our children the same.”
In addition to being placed on the gravestones of individual veterans, wreaths were hung to honor each service branch represented at the cemetery’s veterans memorial, as well as prisoners of war and those missing in action. About 50 people attended the ceremony.
National Wreaths Across America Day is held every December, but this is the first time that it has been held in Durango. This is the second year La Plata County has had an American Heritage Girls troop.
The American Heritage Girls is a Christian-based, scouting-type organization that formed in 1995. According to its website, its mission is to build “women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country.” It has more than 52,000 members across all 50 states.
According to the Wreaths Across America nonprofit, the tradition of honoring veterans by placing wreaths in cemeteries began in 1992, when Morill Worcester of the Worcester Wreath Co. discovered he had a surplus of wreaths and chose to have them placed on graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The tradition caught on nationally after a photograph of the wreaths in Arlington went viral in 2005.
Troop CO2517 planned to lay wreaths on the graves of 239 veterans at Greenmount Cemetery, 47 at Crestview, 36 in Bayfield, 50 at Ignacio East, 45 at Ignacio West and 50 in the Ouray Memorial Cemetery in the Ignacio Southern Ute Cemetery. The local cemeteries are just five out of about 2,200 cemeteries around the world where wreaths were being placed Saturday, Drake said. In the U.S., ceremonies surrounding the event were planned to coincide with those occurring at noon on the East Coast.
Troop CO2517 got started a little bit late this year and only had a chance to sell wreaths for about a month and a half before the event, she said. As of Saturday, the majority of the 1,200 veterans graves at Greenmount did not have wreaths.
“The goal of the event is to cover every single veteran’s grave, and so if people want to support us financially in sponsoring wreaths, it’s ongoing all year long,” Drake said. “We don’t do a certain campaign at a certain time of year, but right now, Wreaths Across America is going to match us wreath for wreath. If we sell a wreath between today and Jan. 15, they will give us a second wreath for next year so we can double our capacity.”