Wreaths to be laid at veterans' graves

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The gravesites of heroes buried in the Jacksonville and St. Augustine national cemeteries will not be empty this Christmas.

On behalf of the Patriot Guard Riders and other fundraising groups, a holiday wreath will be placed on every headstone this Saturday for Wreaths Across America 2013.

That includes about 6,000 headstones at Jacksonville National Cemetery.

"It's just one more thing that we use to spell out the honor and dignity of our heroes that are buried at any national cemetery," said Cliff Shields, cemetery director.

About 2,500 people will be at Jacksonville National Cemetery at 11:45 a.m. Saturday for the annual wreath laying event, a remembrance ceremony to honor and remember the nation's veterans.

Shields said it's important to keep the tradition alive.

"It's the veterans that are buried here that has kept us free in our country," he said. "I'm a Vietnam veteran, so it means a lot to me to have the public out here."

Veterans of each branch of the military, the Merchant Marines, as well as prisoners of war and those still missing in action will all be honored.

"Individuals that are buried here that may not any longer have a loved one, this may be the only time throughout the year something is actually placed on their headstone," Shields said.

St. Augustine is also holding a ceremony at noon Saturday at the St. Augustine National Cemetery off Marine Street.

Clay County will hold a ceremony at noon on Saturday at the Keystone Heights cemetery off of Highway 100.

The Wreaths Across America program is open to the public. If you want to attend or want information on how to volunteer at the event, go to WreathsAcrossAmerica.org.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Floridian anchors weekends and reports weekdays on issues in Nassau and Baker counties and beyond.