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Wreaths Across America program goes on at VA National Cemetery in Cecil

| Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Keith Hodan | Trib Total Media
Brooke Snyder, 15, lays a wreath at the grave of Army veteran Willie Wimbush Jr. on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Bridgeville. Snyder and other members of the Connellsville Area High School Patriots laid wreaths at the graves of veterans during the Wreaths Across America event. Sponsored by the Military Order of the Purple Heart, about 1,000 volunteers and family members placed 5,049 wreaths at the graves honoring veterans of each branch of the military.

The inclement weather did not keep people away from the VA National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil for the Wreaths Across America program.

Among a crowd of more than a thousand participating were 50 who rode the bus from Connellsville with Linda Shearer's Connellsville Area High School Patriots group. Saturday marked the sixth year the CAHS Patriots participated in the event, held at national cemeteries across the nation on the same day.

“It's really excellent,” said senior Bethany Lonce, 17, of Connellsville, who was making her first trip to the ceremony. She placed a wreath on the grave of Doward S. Johnson Jr., an Army sergeant, born in 1956, who died in 2006.

For Kaylyn Johnson, 17, also a senior from Connellsville, the ceremony held special meaning.

“My dad (Jay Johnson) was in the Army in Iraq,” she said, looking out at the rows of white tombstones. “At least, he made it back.”

It was the second year Johnson participated.

“It's very amazing, very nice,” said Josh Soltis, 17, a junior from Connellsville, who is a member of the Junior ROTC program at the school. It was his first time attending the ceremony. “I've always wanted to be at this kind of ceremony. I have a lot of relatives who have served in the military.”

Brooke Snyder, 15, a sophomore, also from Connellsville, said it was her second time. “It's a humbling experience,” she said.

Snyder plans to attend again next year.

After all the wreaths assigned to the group were placed in front of tombstones in section 2, they boarded the bus for the return trip to Connellsville.

Those wishing to donate can sponsor a wreath through Wreaths Across America. The cost this year was $15. The website is www.waastore.com and other items can be purchased.

The CAHS Patriots raised enough money to place 327 wreaths on veterans' graves this year.

Wreaths Across America started 22 years ago when Worcester Wreath Co.donated Maine wreaths to adorn the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. A nonprofit organization was formed to expand the program across the nation. The goal is to decorate every veteran's grave for the holidays.

The Cemetery of the Alleghenies is just off Interstate 79 in Washington County near Bridgeville.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538.

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