Wreaths Across America ceremonies keep spirits of deceased veterans alive

Christmas wreaths are carried into the Wreaths Across America ceremony by members of the Civil Air Patrol St. George Composite Squadron, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH Military and veterans service organizations, along with leaders and members of the community, paid tribute to deceased veterans on “National Wreaths Across America Day” Saturday during two ceremonies held at Tonaquint Cemetery and the Shivwits Band of Paiute Cemetery.

A Marine veteran and cadet from the Air Force junior ROTC place a Christmas wreath to honor Marine veterans during the Wreaths Across America Ceremony at Tonaquint Cemetery, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The ceremony, which is now in its seventh year in St. George, is part of a national event that began in the 1990s at Arlington National Cemetery.  It honors the lives and sacrifices of veterans by placing Christmas wreaths on their graves.

The event has now grown to include more than 1,400 sites in all 50 states and parts of the world.

The Washington County ceremonies are organized by the Civil Air Patrol St. George Composite Squadron under the direction of Les Joslin.

A veteran himself, Joslin said that the Civil Air Patrol works hard to make sure that no veteran is forgotten. The group’s participation in National Wreaths Across America Day fulfills the three pillars of the Wreaths Across America organization, which are:

  • To remember our fallen U.S. veterans.
  • To honor those who serve.
  • To teach children the value of freedom.

Tonaquint Cemetery

The ceremony at Tonaquint Cemetery began at precisely 10 a.m. in tandem with ceremonies taking place across the country including the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery which began at noon EST, said Aros Mackey, the event’s emcee.

This year’s event saw almost double the turnout from the 2016 ceremony, Joslin said, adding that he was pleased with both the turnout and the ceremony.

Members of the Air Force junior ROTC carry Christmas wreaths to honor veterans of the different military branches during the Wreaths Across America ceremony held at the Tonaquint Cemetery, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

The patriotic ceremony places a strong emphasis on remembering the service that veterans gave so that others, both at home and abroad, can enjoy more freedoms.

“The freedoms we have today have not come without a price,” Mackey said.

Addressing the deceased veterans who were being honored Saturday, Mackey said:

We remember you and we are grateful to you.

Remembrance was the central theme of the ceremony, which included participation from several service organizations including the Patriot Guard Riders, the Knights of Colombus, American Legion Post 90, The Daughters of the American Revolution Color Country Chapter and Team Rubicon.

Team Rubicon is a service organization made up of 90 percent veterans that specialize in helping after disasters. Though the organization has been around since 2010 and has approximately 70,000 members, it is new to Southern Utah, said Shari McTiver, area organizer, veteran and Civil Air Patrol member.

Team Rubicon helped provide and serve hot chocolate and coffee to attendees and participants at the Wreaths Across America ceremony.

Team Rubicon member and Vietnam veteran Bruce Solomon spoke at the ceremony. In his speech he paraphrased a quote by author David Eagleman who wrote:

There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.

“We are keeping their spirits alive,” Solomon said of the veterans, adding that when the wreaths are placed on the grave, the veterans name is said aloud.

Wreaths were placed on the graves of approximately 700 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.

Though Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization, it does cost $15 for each wreath. Money to purchase the wreaths was provided by the fundraising efforts of the Civil Air Patrol St. George Composite Squadron, individual and corporate sponsors and the Daughters of the American Revolution Color Country Chapter. The DAR Color Country Chapter holds two major fundraising events and several small events throughout the year to help purchase wreaths.

It is the hope of both the Civil Air Patrol and the DAR Color Country Chapter that next year they will be able to raise enough money to purchase wreaths for the nearly 1,100 deceased veterans who are laid to rest in the St. George Cemetery, Joslin said. In combination with Tonaquint and the Shivwits Band of Paitues Cemetery, adding St. George Cemetery would mean placing Christmas Wreaths on almost 1,900 graves.

Shivwits Paiute Indian Cemetery

The Patriot Guard Riders, the Civil Air Patrol and DAR Color Country made their way to the Shivwits Paiute Indian Cemetery shortly after the Tonaquint ceremony Saturday afternoon to honor the more than 20 Native American veterans buried there.

Members of the Shivwits Band of Paiutes make their way to the graves sites of veterans at the Shivwits Paiute Indian Cemetery during a wreath-laying ceremony, Washington County, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

“This is the fifth year that we’ve had the honor and the privilege of being able to honor the Native American veterans buried here,” Joslin said.

In attendance were several family members of the deceased veterans, including the brother and sister of Crawford Snow, who was killed in action 50 years ago at the age of 22.

“The first soldier from Washington County killed during the Vietnam War lays at the top of this hill – Crawford Snow,” Joslin said.

The wreath-laying ceremony was officiated by Shivwits Band of Paiutes Council Member Glenn Rogers.

Rogers said the humble cemetery is representative of Paiute culture and belief, placing great value on the dirt and rocks – the elements of the earth – upon which their ancestors treaded.

“They roamed these hills, and they lived here,” Rogers said.

Angus Snow lays a wreath at his brother’s grave at the Shivwits Paiute Indian Cemetery, Washington County, Utah, Dec. 16, 2017 | Photo by Joseph Witham, St. George News

Rogers sang a traditional “warrior” song in Paiute tongue while burning sage, with the smoke acting as an offering to the heavens.

Air Force junior ROTC Cadet Kenzie Boone, who is a member of the Paiute tribe, laid the first wreath at a monument dedicated to the cemetery’s deceased veterans.

A procession then made its way to Cawford Snow’s headstone where his living brother, Angus Snow, laid a wreath in honor of his sacrifice.

“Today’s a special day for all of us and the deceased here,” Rogers said. “The spirit is here. The spirit will always be here.”

St. George News Reporter Joseph Witham contributed the report from the Shivwits Paiute Indian Cemetery.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Connor December 16, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Cadets Kenzie Boone, Josh Barber, Trace Lake, Colin Byrnes, and Connor Byrnes are not Civil Air Patrol. They are members of the Dixie High School AFJROTC. Please fix

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