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Wreaths event draws record participation

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 8:05 p.m.
Paula Hodor (front), of Eighty Four, and her aunt Jackie Ralstin, of Donora, walk through the section where Hodor's father, the late James Trail; who served in the Korean War with the United States Army, after placing a wreath on his gravesite at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies during the Wreaths Across America Cermony held on Saturday, December 15, 2012. A crowd of family members and volunteers worked to distribute over 5000 wreaths on graves throughout the national cemetery. Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
MARILYN FORBES I FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW Connellsville students Garrett Snyder and Avonlea Keedy place wreaths on graves at the cemetery.
MARILYN FORBES I FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW Everyone was asked to take a minute to read the headstones and in doing so, Connellsville student Abbi Cook discovered that she and this veteran shared the same birthdate.
MARILYN FORBES I FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies is now awash in holiday wreaths that will remain on site until spring.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the debut of Wreaths Across America, an annual ceremony that was created to assure that fallen veterans were honored at Christmastime by supplying wreaths for their final places of rest.

The event started in Arlington National Cemetery and quickly began to spread to other national cemeteries across the county.

Organizations, groups and individuals collect funding for the event, which is then used to purchase the wreaths that are laid on the graves of the veterans.

Since 2005, the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Bridgeville has held a Wreaths Across America program, welcoming visitors every year to the program to lay the thousands of wreaths on the graves.

“The freedom that we enjoy does not come without a price,” veteran and program organizer John Kenes said at this year's ceremony. “Together we mourn their loss while together we celebrate their lives.”

The ceremony this year included the laying of the military branch wreaths by the Civilian Air Patrol and short presentations by other speakers present.

“The circle of the wreath is something that goes on forever,” said guest speaker Congressman Tim Murphy. “We are here to remember those people who are laid here to rest in peace, in unity and in spirit.”

A record amount of wreaths were purchased and placed this year, tallying 5,032 in all.

“This is a wonderful program, and the crowd this year was awesome,” Kim Trice of Pittsburgh said.

Trice brings her father to the ceremony every year and was amazed by the large turnout.

“There usually isn't half this many people here for this,” Trice said. “This is incredible and very touching.”

About 40 members of the Connellsville-based “Patriot's Club” took a bus to the event, with students and adults taking time on the brisk morning to lay wreaths for fallen heroes.

“I think that this is a just an awesome thing,” Avonlea Keedy, 15, said. “It's great to see so many people here.”

Garrett Snyder, 15, said he was pleased to see such a large crowd at the event.

“I'm amazed at the show of support,” Snyder said. “It gives me chills to see all this.”

Patriot Club member Lily Jiang said that this was her first time to the event, and she looks forward to a return visit.

“I'd love to come back here and visit,” Jiang said. “It's so big, and it's really an interesting place. I'll be back next year.”

Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.

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