Wreaths Across America

A wreath lays on Robert Lucero's stone after being placed by friend Dean Welch on Dec. 22, 2016, at the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery in Evansville. Volunteers will be laying wreaths at the cemetery again this month.

File, Star-Tribune

Kathy Sanford Thomas is a Casper native who has returned home to retire with her husband, Pat Thomas. She is co-chairman of the philanthropy or caring committee of the Natrona County Republican Women, whose project is Wreaths Across America.

How did you get involved? The goal of Wreaths Across America is to place a Christmas wreath on every veteran’s grave throughout the United States. Since Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery is the only veterans cemetery in the state, we took this project on and there are 3,000 graves there.

What will happen on Saturday? We are asking people to arrive to the chapel at the ceremony by 9:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., there will be a wreath laying ceremony. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney has accepted our invitation to attend. We will recognize all branches of the military with a ceremonial wreath for each branch as well as for POW-MIA. And after that, we will lay the wreaths at all 3,000 graves.

How did your group make this happen? Wreaths were sold throughout the community and throughout the state. Patriot Guard Riders are involved, Civil Air Patrol, Kelly Walsh DECA, DAR and VFW in Laramie. The Natrona County Republican Women set a goal of raising enough money to place a wreath on every grave, and we have surpassed that, so we have money set aside for next year’s wreaths as well.

How do you get the wreaths to Wyoming? My husband, Pat, was with UPS government affairs and chairman of the American Trucking Association before he retired and moved back. The trucking industry is the foundation of this program. They ship them at no cost from Maine to Wreaths Across America programs throughout the United States.

And you have had experience with the program in the past? I was a teacher in Virginia, so my students laid wreaths back there. It’s a very patriotic, very emotional program. It’s really just the least we can do for these veterans. Eighty-six cents of every dollar donated to the program goes to purchasing a wreath. The CEO of Wreaths Across America does not take a salary.

And the wreath laying itself has meaning? The program asks you to read the soldier or veteran’s name out loud as you place the wreath. A person dies twice: once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken. The mission of Wreaths Across America is to remember the fallen, honor those who serve and their families and teach the value of freedom. The executive director of the program says, “We are not here to ‘decorate graves.’ We’re here to remember not their deaths, but their lives.”

So you need a lot of help to lay 3,000 wreaths? Absolutely. We are asking for volunteers and community participants whether they bought a wreath or not.

Follow community news editor Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @WYOSAS

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Community News Editor

Sally Ann Shurmur arrived at the Star-Tribune to cover sports two weeks after graduating from the University of Wyoming and now serves as community news editor. She was raised in Laramie and is a passionate fan of Cowboys football, food and family.

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