Sometime after 11 a.m. Dec. 15, a group of men will gather in Garland Brook Cemetery to distribute Christmas wreaths for free ... first come, first served.
There’s only one catch to the gift. These holiday decorations can’t be taken home and hung on a front door or window. Instead they are intended for placement on a grave, either in Garland Brook or any of the other cemeteries in Bartholomew County.
The grave must be that of a veteran of the armed forces.
The local wreath distribution is the offspring of a national program launched several years ago, Wreaths Across America.
That project was an effort to honor those who had served in the military, in some cases at the expense of their own lives.
It was centered at first in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., where businesses and volunteers blanketed sections of the cemetery with Christmas wreaths.
The scene — such as that pictured above — offered a dramatic and emotional contrast in colors ... the white headstones covered with a blanket of snow interspersed by the green wreaths and their red ribbons.
It brought a sense of warmth to a somber place.
The movement got attention and eventually spread to other national cemeteries where those who had served were buried. Thousands upon thousands of the decorations have been placed on white headstones.
The idea was picked up by a Hope resident named Lou Broering who wanted to start a similar tradition in Bartholomew County. He didn’t want to limit it to one cemetery but any resting place in the county where veterans might be buried.
He pitched his idea in winter 2009, but it was a late start, and there was little time to raise needed funds or decide how the program might work.
It was a modest effort that first year, limited to the placement of three large wreaths at the Bartholomew County Memorial For Veterans.
Things were much better organized for the second year of the local project. Enough money was raised to purchase 133 wreaths, which were distributed to family members of veterans buried in local cemeteries.
Sadly, Lou never saw that first distribution. He died a few weeks before the wreaths were delivered.
His cause was taken up by fellow members of the local Sons of the American Legion post. The group raised enough money in 2011 to purchase 297 wreaths.
This year there will be even more available.
“We’re still raising money, but we’ve committed to the purchase of 350 wreaths,” said Ron Shadley, one of those coordinating the project. “We still need to make our goal, but we intend to distribute at least this many. If we raise more money than what’s needed for the 350, then we’ll just order more wreaths.”
Any kind of donation will be accepted.
There are benefits that come with a donation — a tax deduction for the gift, for instance — but the real gift would be a sea of wreaths on hundreds of graves of local veterans who served their country.
School will sing to troops
Honoring those who serve is a tradition that has branched into several directions.
Sandy Watts, whose third-grade students at Parkside Elementary School have become major supporters of the USO at Camp Atterbury, will be returning to the base Dec. 14 to entertain troops with Christmas carols and distribute holiday cookies.
The project is seemingly guided this year by some sort of divine providence and a little help from a number of local Christmas “elves.”
“I had debated about even going this year, but things quickly changed my mind,” she said. “First United Methodist contacted me about leftover homemade cookies from their Cookie Walk, which they asked us to distribute to the soldiers if we were going to do the Christmas caroling program. Then I worried that we didn’t have enough Parkside T-shirts for all my students.
“Well, a day later a parent of three former students walked into the room with a stack of Parkside shirts and wanted to know if I could use them. I’ve been asked by former students if we planned to go to Atterbury this year. It also turns out that Kathy Dell is doing a musical with our third graders that I can glean songs from.”
Just another one of those examples of what happens when a plan comes together.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Donate
To arrange a donation to the local Wreaths for Veterans project, contact any one of the following:
- Ron Shadley, 376-3341
- Frank Fox, 376-6034
- Larry Durnil, 343-0966