Article and photos by Mary Alice Murphy

Wreaths Across America was celebrated at Fort Bayard National Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 15, just as it was across many other locations around the country.

A group of volunteers converged on the cemetery Friday afternoon in the rain, sleet and snow to place 549 wreaths on graves of veterans.

Saturday dawned partly cloudy, with a brisk breeze, but more than 60 people turned out to celebrate the day.


Jim Zawacki of the VFW and American Legion posts served as the master of ceremonies. He welcomed those in attendance and asked for a full minute of remembrance for the veterans who have preserved America's freedoms.

The Gaffney-Oglesby Marine Corps League Detachment 1328 color guard presented the colors.

Eight-year-old Sophia Ogas led the Pledge of Allegiance. The Hi Lo Silvers, an all-female singing led by Valdeen Wooton, director, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Zawacki gave an address, in which he said: "Lying here before us, and in cemeteries throughout this nation, are men and women who gave the ultimate, their lives, so that we can live in freedom and without fear."

He also quoted from President Ronald Reagan, who said: "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. … It must be fought for, protected and handed on for our children to do the same or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Wreaths with flags from the various Armed Services were laid on the wall around the pavilion where the ceremony was held. After the event, participants, including James Porter of the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, laid the wreaths on graves representing the branches of service.

Tip Cowan laid the wreath in memory of those who served and are serving in the United States Army; Chris Malacrea for the Marine Corps; Don Strange for the Navy; Chuck Whitley for the Air Force; Jennie Reynolds for the Coast Guard; and Mike Trujillo for the Merchant Marines.

Damian Martinez laid a wreath in honor of the 93,129 U.S. service men and women who are prisoners of war or missing in action.

Members of the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society laid wreaths. Bill Kupke's wreath honored U.S. Army officers and enlisted men buried at the cemetery; Sharon Gonzalez, the Buffalo Soldiers buried at the cemetery; Dr. John Bell dedicated a wreath to the medical staff of Army physicians and Medical Corps assigned to Fort Bayard from 1866-1988 and 1899-1920; Cecilia Bell's honored Army nurses, especially Dita Hopkins Kinney; and Sophia Ogas honored children buried at Fort Bayard, especially the McGann children—Agnes, 10; Thomas, 7; Henry, 2; and Charles, 8 months, who died of diphtheria over the Christmas holidays in 1882.

The last holiday wreath was laid by Edna Puleston, representing the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The Hi Lo Silvers sang "America, the Beautiful," and Zawacki gave closing remarks.

Zawacki then presented roses to Mary Cowan, the manager of the local Wreath Across America campaign. Last year no more than 50 wreaths were laid. The number increased more than tenfold to 549 wreaths. Cowan's goal for next year is a wreath for every one of the more than 4,000 graves at Fort Bayard.

"To our children and grandchildren, we want you to understand that the freedoms you enjoy today have not been free, but have come with a cost that someday you may have to pay yourself. As a nation standing together, we can defeat terrorism, hatred and injustice," Zawacki said. "Thanks to our veterans, we have the freedom to do just that."

Richard Erwin Jr. of the Marine Corps League Detachment played "Taps."

Live from Silver City

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