Veterans remembered at Christmastime

Published 12:52 am Thursday, January 3, 2013


Like many fall mornings, the sun created a warmth slightly reminiscent of spring last Saturday.

That’s when members of the Bogalusa Magic City Post 24 of the American Legion and others gathered at Ponemah Cemetery’s veterans’ plot to honor and remember all the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from Washington Parish who have served, who have sacrificed, who have died or who have returned, some wounded, some intact, after placing themselves in harm’s way in defense of America and all of its citizens.

The Wreaths Across America Day program is held each year on the second Saturday in December. The Worcester Wreath Co., of Harrington, Maine, began the program more than 20 years ago when, in 1992, the company found itself with a surplus of wreaths as the end of the holiday season drew near. Owner Morrill Worcester took the opportunity to honor the country’s veterans when, with the help of Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery. That year, and every year after, organizations and individuals stepped up to help, both logistically and financially.

In 2005 someone posted a photo on YouTube, and the Wreaths Across America project went national.

In 2012, in Arlington and in more than 750 participating locations nationwide, the organization planned to place more than 400,000 wreaths in all 50 states, as well as 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil. And more than 150,000 volunteers from organizations including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H, AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lions, Elks, Knights of Columbus and Masons would assist.

Bogalusa is the only city in Louisiana with two Wreaths Across America participating locations. Bogalusa Cemetery was the first to sign up in 2010, and this year Ponemah joined the other 10 locations in the state to sponsor one or more wreaths.

At precisely 11 a.m. CST on Saturday, the programs began at both Bogalusa sites in coordination with the 12 p.m. EST start of the Arlington event. At Bogalusa Cemetery, Emma Dixon, the volunteer location leader, and Disabled American Veterans Commander Calvin Johnson began the ceremony with a full minute of silence in remembrance of the fallen, prisoners of war, the missing in action and those who have served or who are serving at this time in the U.S. Armed Services. Bogalusa Cemetery has been a part of the program for three years.

Also, in remembrance of the victims of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shootings, the flag was flown at half-staff. Participants saluted the flag, said the Pledge of Allegiance and heard the recording of the national anthem sung by Whitney Houston.

Chaplain Earline Crawford, 84, a U.S. Army veteran (1942-1952), gave the invocation.

Johnson spoke to those gathered, saying, “Many of you here today have answered that call and served your country well. We are here today to say, ‘Thank you.’”

Continuing, he said, “We owe them our way of life.”

Wreaths were placed by a veteran honoring every branch of the armed services. Robert Hicks represented the U.S. Army; Elbert Buckley Sr., U.S. Navy; Daren Dixon, U.S. Marine Corps; Marvin Austin, U.S. Air Force.; U.S. Coast Guard, Sydney Davis; and U.S. Merchant Marines, Fred Magee. Prisoners of war and missing in action, a total of 93,129, were represented by Charles Dyson.

At the conclusion of the laying of the wreaths, TAPS was played in honor of all who never returned to their families.

At Ponemah Cemetery, the program was presented by the American Legion Magic City Post 24, with the Rev. Bob Belknap as master of ceremonies. This was the first year that Ponemah Cemetery was a part of the WAA tradition.

Near the beginning of the program, just after the colors were posted by Johnny Williams and Mervin Taylor, a flyover of three planes in formation, with a fourth a bit to the rear, surprised most everyone in the audience.

In addition to the large wreath placed near the flags, eight wreaths were placed on memorials to those who served in the seven branches of service, as well as those who were prisoners of war or missing in action.

Placing the wreaths were Huey Pierce, U.S. Navy; Angelo Pepe and Justin Sanford, U.S. Marine Corps; Royce Crain, U.S. Army; Claude Bloom, U.S. Air Force; Bobby Latino, U.S. Coast Guard; Gary Duncan, Merchant Marines; and Richard Lively, POWs. The honor wreath for those missing in action was laid by Joe Ball.

Following the laying of the wreaths, the rifle squad performed a 21-gun salute. Rifle squad members are Donald Kuhn Sr., Harry Ducas, Glenn Pfieffer, Johnn Williams, Robert Purvis, Bobby Latino, Dale Hines and Allen Keller. TAPS was played by Malcolm Fry.

Legion members taking part in the service were happy to have been a part of the Wreaths Across America Day program and look forward to next year, according to Belknap.