When U.S. Army veteran Ivan Goodner took his six children to Arlington National Cemetery six years ago for his 81st birthday, it left a huge impression on them. They were so moved that when the Duncan resident died back in February, they already knew exactly how they were going to honor him. They joined the Wreaths across America program.
Every year on Dec. 18, wreaths are laid on the graves of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery and 2,500 other cemeteries across the United States and overseas during special ceremonies. Some wreaths are purchased by loved ones and family members of veterans, others are purchased with donations.
Goodner’s daughters, Terri Kay, Sandy French and Karla Ellis went through the process to join the non-profit organization and are calling their program the Wreaths of Gratitude. They and a handful of volunteers have been carefully finding and documenting every veteran’s grave they can find in the Sheldon, Duncan and Franklin cemeteries and both of the cemeteries in Virden, N.M.
“We just looked for people who were willing to help. It’s a program that sold itself and they all just stepped up without question,” Kay said.
Unfortunately, not every grave carries a gravestone identifying those buried as veterans and they are worried they may miss someone, Kay said. They’ve reached out to the media to encourage loved ones to notify them if they’ve got a veteran in one of the five cemeteries.
They’d also love to see more wreaths sponsored. All of the wreaths are identical and made in Maine. They must be purchased by Nov. 30. There will be a 10 a.m. ceremony at the Duncan Valley Cemetery Dec. 18 and then everyone will then head to the other cemeteries to place the wreaths.
So far, 188 of the 350 graves identified have someone sponsoring a wreath, Kay said.
Malyn Sexton said she was deeply touched when a 95-year-old York resident reached out to her recently. The woman wanted to buy a wreath for a loved one, but also for Ensign Samuel Walter Sloan, a classmate who was lost at sea in 1945 during World War II and whose family members have all passed away, she said.
“She called me to come to her house to take her donation because she wanted a wreath placed on her classmate’s grave because she knew nobody else would still know him or remember. She’s the last person in her Duncan High School graduating class,” Sexton said.
For the past couple of weeks volunteers have been cleaning up each of the five cemeteries in preparation for Dec. 18, although additional help would be appreciated.
The group hopes to obtain permission soon to start their own Facebook page.
“We’re also hoping other areas will jump on board and create their own group and make this a thing in our community,” said Bonice Jensen.
The day the sisters spent at the cemetery in Virginia was a memorable one and they’d like Dec. 18 to be just as memorable.
“There are no words for it, it was just humbling,” French said.
“We happened to be there at the time of a funeral and it was amazing,” Ellis said.