Honoring those who served
Hundreds brave bad weather to participate in local Wreaths Across America effort.
Marion Duncan came out in a pouring rainstorm on Saturday to place a wreath on the headstone of her late husband and Vietnam War veteran Bobbie Joe Duncan during the Wreaths Across America ceremony at Highlands Memorial Park in Ocala.
Duncan has placed a wreath at her husband’s gravesite during the annual ceremony for at least two years. She indicated the ceremony honoring her husband, an Air Force veteran, has a lot of meaning to her.
Volunteers for the wreath-laying ceremony included local veterans groups, Lake Weir High School JROTC members, criminal justice class cadets from College of Central Florida, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and individuals. They placed green wreaths with red bows on the final resting places of 1,744 veterans at the memorial park while saying the individual veteran’s name to honor their service and sacrifice.
Volunteers attended a brief program held before the wreath-laying ceremony, which included speakers Craig Ham, a retired U.S. Army colonel and president of the Marion County Veterans Council; Jeffrey Askew, director of the Marion County Veterans Services; and local Wreaths Across America program co-organizer, John Grimstead.
Askew thanked the hundreds of assembled volunteers and said military service members “serve in rain, snow, hurricanes and tornadoes.” Other speakers discussed honoring the service and sacrifice of veterans by placing the wreaths.
The mission of Wreaths Across America is to “Remember the fallen; Honor those who serve; and teach the necessary generation the value of freedom,“ according to wreathsacrossamerica.org.
Wreaths Across America was started by Morrill Worcester of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine in 1992 to honor veterans buried in “Arlington (National Cemetery) in one of the older cemetery sections that had been receiving fewer visitors each passing year,” according to the website, using a seasonal overage of wreaths.
In 2022, volunteers placed wreaths at veterans gravesites in 3,702 locations, the website states.
During the Ocala ceremony, Vietnam War Era Marine Corps veteran Dan Lindsey placed a wreath on the gravesite of Eugene Edward Kolberg, a Vietnam War Army veteran who passed away in 2019 at age 77.
Lindsey took a step back after placing the wreath, stood at attention, and then saluted the veteran’s headstone. He said the wreath was meant to “keep the veteran’s memory alive.”
Wreaths Across America volunteer and Air Force veteran Dave Spencer placed 30 wreaths on Saturday.
Members of Trail Life Troop 1202 of Ocala and their families also volunteered to place wreaths.
Location coordinators for the Ocala-area ceremony are Lori and John Grimstead with the Al Krietemeyer American Legion Post 284 in Belleview. The local Wreaths Across America program was founded by the Grimsteads and the late Eddie Jaworski.
“It was amazing how many (volunteers) turned out in view of the (rainy) weather,” John Grimstead said.
Lori Grimstead said the Wreaths Across America program globally would see 2.9 million veterans honored with wreaths at 4,212 locations.
Sponsors of the local Wreaths
Across America program include: American Legion Post 284; American Heritage Girl Troop 1201; Ocala Blue Star Mothers; Fergusons; Trail Life Troop 1201;
Ocala Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; Rainbow River Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; Lockheed Martin; Mission BBQ, and Sgt. Reckless WMA FL13.