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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Lives of service men and women remembered in Wreaths Across America event

Joanna Meyer, U.S. Air Force veteran and member of the Hewitt-New American Legion Post 248, lays a wreath remembering service men and women who were last known being prisoners of war or missing in action. The first Wreaths Across America ceremony was held at Trading Post Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 17. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

The air was frigid, the breeze was brisk and the skies were overcast at Trading Post Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 17, as about 30 people stood around the obelisk in the cemetery that honors victims of the Marais des Cygnes massacre. Those attending braved the bone-chilling cold to remember and lay wreaths on the graves of veterans as part of a nationwide observance of Wreaths Across America (WAA).

According to the WAA website, “Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, our mission to remember, honor and teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 3,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.”

The original WAA wreath-laying began when the owner of a wreath-making company and his children laid 5,000 wreaths on the graves of Civil War soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Last year 2.5 million wreaths were placed.

Joe Perkins, left, gives opening remarks at the wreath-laying ceremony with an honor guard from the Hewitt-New American Legion Post 248 standing by.(Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

With an honor guard from Hewitt-New American Legion Post 248, Joe Perkins, senior pastor of the Mound City Baptist Church, opened the Trading Post ceremony by noting that it was the 30th anniversary of WAA and thanking local organizer Alison Hamilton and other volunteers for their efforts to bring the program to Linn County.

Perkins said that America owes an incredible debt to its veterans, and that the freedoms we enjoy here are because so many have been willing to take the fight to the enemy overseas.

“One such individual to whom that great unsayable debt is owed is John E. Jackson, who is buried here at the Trading Post Cemetery,” said Perkins. “Private Jason was part of the 10th Infantry Division, which landed in Normandy (France) just 33 days after D-Day.

“The division immediately distinguish itself in open warfare and assaults on fortified locations. They developed the motto: ‘When the going gets tough for everyone else, it’s just getting right for us.’

Gloria Johnson of Osawatomie prepares to lay a wreath on the grave of her uncle, John E. Jackson, who died in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

“Private Jackson and the rest of the 10th Infantry Division were involved in repulsing the German counter-offensive at the Battle of the Bulge. That winter of 1944-45 in Europe was one of the coldest and snowiest on record. John would have endured this weather and battlefield for the man next to him, for our nation, and for freedom-loving people everywhere.

“The country of France still speaks French because men like Pvt. John Jackson fought to push back the fascism of that day.”

Jackson was killed on Jan. 20, 1945, just five days before the Battle of the Bulge was over, Perkins said.

“Thank you for your service and your sacrifice Pvt. John E. Jackson,” Perkins continued. “We say your name out loud today so that your memory and sacrifice are kept alive.”

Following Perkins’ remarks, members of the American Legion post placed wreaths honoring each branch of service near the memorial. Post Commander Walt Johnson placed a wreath honoring the U.S. Army, followed by Ron Stanley placing a wreath for the U.S. Marine Corps and later for the U.S. Space Force.

Bill Johnson placed a wreath honoring U.S. Navy veterans, and Joanna Meyer set a wreath to honor those who served and currently serve in the U.S. Air Force. Kenny Stark placed a wreath for the U.S. Coast Guard and Merchant Marines, and Meyer set a wreath in memory of more than 93,000 service men and women whose last known status was prisoner of war (POW) or missing in action (MIA).

Alison Hamilton, organizer of the first local Wreaths Across America event, says that the group of volunteers who worked on this year's wreath-laying plan to make it an annual event. (Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

In closing remarks, organizer Alison Hamilton called on those present to remember that they were not there to decorate graves but instead remember the lives of those who served.

“Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful America,” she said.

Following the ceremony, people carrying wreaths fanned out across the cemetery, setting wreaths against the tombstones of veterans buried at the Trading Post Cemetery. The volunteers then set out for Pleasanton and Mound City to lay more wreaths in cemeteries there.

This photo with wreaths laid on rows of soldiers' graves at Arlington National Cemetery sparked national interest in the WAA program. To visit the Wreaths Across America website, click here. (Screenshot, Wreaths Across America)

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