A biting wind swirled around spectators and the Pocahontas County Veterans Honor Corps last Saturday at Arbovale Cemetery, but it did not stop the gathering from participating in the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony.
In its 31st year, Wreaths Across America was founded to remember the fallen, honor those who serve and their families and teach the next generation the value of freedom.
Across the country, more than two million volunteers participated in the laying of nearly 2.7 million wreaths in more than 3,100 cemeteries. Eight of those wreaths were placed at Arbovale by members of the Honor Corps.
Opening the ceremony, Honor Corps Commander Rick Wooddell spoke of the three tenets of Wreaths Across America – Remember, Honor and Teach.
“We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society made up of many people, from many walks of life,” he said. “The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear. We can worship as we see fit. We can raise our children to believe as we do. We are free to vote for the leaders of our choosing, and we have the ability to prosper, and we have the right to fail at whatever endeavor we wish to pursue.”
While the day is a day of remembering those who have passed, Wooddell said it is also important to remember and honor those who are actively serving in the nation’s armed forces today, continuing the efforts of those who came before them.
“Today, more than ever, we reflect on our nation’s veterans and active-duty service members who have had and continue to fight to protect the innocent and oppressed,” he said. “This nation has always been the first to stand up for the freedom of people from around the world. Many of you here today have answered that call and served your country well. For this we say thank you, and we are honored to know you.
“There are many men and women serving today in all branches of the military – here at home and in places far away, that most of us have never heard of,” he continued. “These men and women are part of the best-trained, best-equipped force in the world. We honor them and their families for the sacrifices they make each day to keep our country safe from terrorism, hatred and injustice.”
Wooddell said the Honor Corps added a wreath for the U.S. Space Force to honor those who are serving and have served in roles helping to secure our national interests in space.
One at a time, the eight wreaths were placed at the base of the pole holding the American flag at the entrance to the Arbovale Cemetery.
Placing wreaths for each branch were:
Army Specialist 4 Donnie Waybright – United States Army
Retired Navy Chief Sam Arbogast – United States Navy
Army Specialist Ben Lukacek – United States Marine Corps
Air Force Sergeant Tommy VanReenen – United States Air Force
Air Force A1C Steve Fierbaugh – United States Space Force
Army Sergeant John Sparks – United States Coast Guard
Retired Captain of the Merchant Marines George Fleck – United States Merchant Marines
Army Sergeant Major Sollie Workman – POW/MIA
“Remember, we are not here today to decorate graves,” Wooddell said, in closing. “We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful America. These live balsam firs symbolize our honor to those who have served and are serving in the armed forces of our great nation and to their families who endure sacrifices every day on our behalf.
“As we prepare to close this ceremony, we want to thank our veterans – we have the freedom to do just that.”
The Honor Corps then presented a 21-gun salute and closed the ceremony with the playing of Taps.