On a drizzly Saturday, the Rotary Club of West Sacramento Centennial along with a multitude of volunteers gathered wreaths from the headstones of military veterans at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon. Placing the wreaths in early December is met with ceremonies and publicity. However, the volunteers picking up the wreaths quietly move about their business in mid-January.
Several wreaths were laid at the headstones of new graves, many of which were from World War II. I overheard a person comment that the cemetery is growing, and speculating whether that was a positive fact. The person was reminded that many of the fresh graves were of persons born in the 1920s. The cemetery is to honor all veterans whether they served years ago or recently fallen while in active service.
Remember, Honor and Teach is the mission of Wreaths Across America (WAA), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization formed in 2007 as an extension of The Arlington Wreath Project. The WAA project now has over 700 participating locations in all 50 states, and 24 national veteran cemeteries on foreign soil. I had the honor of visiting the Florence American Cemetery, Italy, dedicated to over 4,000 American troops.
The WAA program began 1992 with a trailer load of surplus wreaths from one donor, decorated by volunteers and laid at the graves of fallen soldiers in the Arlington National Cemetery. Currently the WAA is a national organization with multiple sponsors and volunteers including trucking businesses hauling wreaths from over 1,000 participating locations.
In Dixon, the 561-acre Sacramento Valley National Cemetery is the seventh national cemetery built in California and the 124th in the national cemetery system. The Homestead Act of 1862 settled the land into nine separate parcels, which were eventually purchased by one owner. Crops were raised on the site until the National Cemetery Administration purchased the land in 2004. Sacramento Valley National Cemetery opened for burials in 2006, and was formally dedicated on April 22, 2007.
The cemetery has 19,500 graves of all members of the armed forces who have met a minimum active duty service requirement and did not receive dishonorable discharge.
Getting up early on a cold January morning warmed my heart. I love watching the multiple generations work together to gather wreaths in this volunteer event connecting us to our history. I am not a proponent of war and wish the world could avoid them altogether. However, while I pulled on my socks the next morning, I gave thanks to the sacrifices made for the freedoms often taken for granted.