Wreath ceremony celebrates veterans, honors their sacrifices

In this 2016 file photo members of the Patriot Guard Riders stand a flag line while cadets from the St. George Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol carry Christmas wreaths during a "Wreaths Across America" ceremony at Tonaquint Cemetery, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE A cold wind and clear skies greeted participants of the Wreaths Across America ceremony Saturday morning at Tonaquint Cemetery. Bagpipe music and American flags whipping in the wind provided a patriotic backdrop for a touching tribute to the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces.

Emma Connor, age 2, carries a Christmas wreath to place on the grave of a veteran at Tonaquint Cemetery, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Emma Connor, age 2, carries a Christmas wreath to place on the grave of a veteran at Tonaquint Cemetery, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The ceremony, which began at Arlington National Cemetery, is now held in cemeteries across the nation and in some parts of the world. It honors the lives and sacrifices of veterans by placing Christmas wreaths on their graves.

The St. George ceremony is hosted by the St. George Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol. It is one of the main goals of the Civil Air Patrol to honor veterans both living and deceased said Lester Joslin, chairman of the Southern Utah Wreaths Across America through the St. George Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol. The group has worked hard to ensure that no veteran is forgotten at Christmas time.

Wreaths were placed on the graves of approximately 650 veterans buried at Tonaquint Cemetery. Wreaths honoring the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Merchant Marines and Navy as well as a wreath honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action were also placed at the cemetery.

There are currently 82,637 men and women whose last known status was prisoner of war or missing in action said Aros Mackey, the ceremony’s emcee.

Mackey has been involved with the Wreaths Across America ceremony for the past six years, he said. Mackey did not serve in the military but recognizes that he had what one might call an “all-American” childhood because of those who did serve. Participating in Wreaths Across America is one way, Mackey said, that he feels he is able to give back to the veterans and to teach his children how lucky they are to have all the freedoms they experience in America.

Steven W. King places a Christmas wreath on his friend and Vietnam veteran Ric Backman's grave, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2016 | Photo by Valerie King, St. George News
Steven W. King places a Christmas wreath on his friend and Vietnam veteran Ric Backman’s grave, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2016 | Photo by Valerie King, St. George News

Despite the cold, several veterans, community members and community and veteran service groups attended the ceremony including the Knights of Columbus, the Patriot Guard Riders, American Legion Post 90 and the Daughters of the American Revolution Color Country Chapter.

The Daughters of the American Revolution Color Country Chapter spent many hours of service raising funds to help pay for the wreaths.

Of the nearly $10,000 needed to help pay for enough wreaths for all the veterans, the women of the Daughters of the American Revolution Color Country Chapter helped to raise $4,000, said Valerie King, vice regent of the chapter.

It is a cause they feel honored to participate in, King said.

“It’s a very emotionally gripping ceremony for us,” King said. ” … It gives us the opportunity to say ‘thank you’ once again to those who have passed and to honor and give them tribute.”

For Vladamir Joslin, a cadet in the St. George Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol and Lester Joslin’s son, participating in Wreaths Across America has a deep, familial meaning, he said.

“My whole family branches from the military,” Vladimir Joslin said. “My own brother is serving in the Air Force right now. He’s only 19 so hopefully I don’t have to do this for him.”

With such deep ties to the military, Vladimir Joslin said that the ceremony was about more than just going through the motions.

“It brings out lots of feelings,” Vladimir Joslin said.

The brief ceremony included a moment of silence for fallen service men and women, a prayer, the national anthem sung by St. George mayor Jon Pike, a gun salute and flag raising. Following the ceremony those in attendance were invited to help place the wreaths on the graves.

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Email: hreina@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • .... December 19, 2016 at 2:59 am

    This is absolutely a fantastic project and I would like to thank all those involved in making this possible. Praise the Lord !

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