By Crystal Burns
The Oakland Cemetery Association’s first attempt at Wreaths Across America was a resounding success, with dozens of family members and volunteers shrugging off the cold, damp conditions Sunday afternoon to place more than 200 live Christmas wreaths on the monuments of veterans buried in the historic Trenton cemetery.
“We’re not mourning their deaths,” said Trenton Alderman CeCe Jones, one of the event organizers. “We’re celebrating their lives.”
During the ceremony held in the gazebo at the cemetery, Jones described how she and Betty Poteet, chairman of the Oakland Cemetery Association Committee, connected with Anita Darnell, coordinator of Wreaths Across America at the Tennessee Veterans’ Cemetery in Parkers Crossroads. The duo had talked about Wreaths Across America last December and planned to hit the ground running in the spring. When COVID-19 hit, Jones and Poteet resigned themselves to holding off for another year.
Then, Darnell walked into the Greater Gibson County Area Chamber of Commerce, where Jones is administrative assistant, to speak to her about an unrelated matter. Their conversation eventually turned to Wreaths Across America, and Darnell invited Trenton leaders to purchase wreaths through her group.
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Jones said.
With Darnell’s help and only six weeks to raise money (wreaths are $15 each and for every two purchased, Wreaths Across America donates one), Trenton community members purchased 250 wreaths. Family members took about 30 of those to place on the monuments of their veterans buried in other cemeteries.
“This community comes together,” Jones said. “You show up, and you show out. You’ve done that today, and I thank you for it.”
There are almost 700 veterans buried in Oakland Cemetery, and leaders believe the community will rally to purchase wreaths for every single monument in the future.
The program featured a mix of the community’s youth and veterans, with representatives of each military branch placing wreaths at the veterans’ monument near the gazebo, along with wreaths in honor of those missing in action and prisoners of war.
Members of the Gibson County chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America presented the colors.
Rev. David M. Horton, a retired Air Force major, offered the invocation, and James H. Lee, retired Army colonel gave brief remarks, reminding participants that freedom is not free. He said the wreaths show honor, respect, and victory for each veteran and serve as gift of thanks for their service and time.
Natasha Pharms sang the national anthem, and Margaret, Grace, and Sarah Peeples played “America the Beautiful” on their violins. Lauren Latta played “Taps.”
Jones gave thanks to Poteet and the cemetery committee for their time and energy given to a host of projects, including Wreaths Across America, that don’t fall under the city’s budget; Doug and Priscilla Poteet for the countless hours of research they did on the veterans receiving wreaths and the cemetery in general; John Dunagan, a faithful volunteer for all things Trenton; Mayor Ricky Jackson and the City Council; the Trenton Gazette; and all those who purchased wreaths and/or attended the ceremony.
“We may have had the idea, but you made the dream come true,” Jones said.
For more information Wreaths Across America, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.