Deceased veterans honored during holiday season

In order to honor deceased veterans in local cemeteries, Helpings Hands of St. Marys is hoping to place a wreath on the grave of every deceased veteran in St. Marys and Kersey for the holiday season. Dolly Wehler, member of Helping Hands, said her organization has been decorating veterans' graves with holiday wreaths for the past few years in conjunction with a program called Wreaths Across America. This year, they are working together with the Vietnam Veterans of America Bucktail Chapter 720 to expand the project to the Kersey area. "This is the third year that we have honored our veterans with wreaths, and what an honor it is to see our cemetery adorned with wreaths during the Christmas holidays," Wehler said. "Everybody seems to think that this is a great thing to do." Wehler said she began the project in memory of her husband, a Vietnam veteran who died six years ago due to complications from exposure to the chemical Agent Orange. She had seen pictures of wreaths adorned on the graves at Arlington, a practice begun by Wreaths Across America founder and Worcester Wreath Co. owner Morrill Worcester, and wanted to share the idea with local residents who wanted to remember their deceased veterans over the holidays. "I said, 'We need to do it here,' Wehler explained. "I just thought it was a nice thing to do for veterans." Helping Hands and the Vietnam Veterans chapter have been holding various fundraising activities for several months to accumulate enough funds for enough wreaths to place on each area veteran's grave. According to Wehler, there are approximately 2,300 veterans buried in St. Marys and Kersey cemeteries; the approximate cost for enough wreaths for all of the graves is $30,000. The groups, which have raised about $10,000 to date, are hoping to meet their fundraising goal before the annual ceremony and wreath-laying activities on the second Saturday in December. Wehler said while many people purchase a wreath to honor their family members, the organizations also want to try to pay tribute to the "forgotten veterans," including those who served during the World War I era or earlier. "They were all part of a family, so they should be remembered, too," Wehler said. The deadline for ordering a wreath is Nov. 22. People who would like to sponsor a wreath should contact Dolly Wehler at 781-7247 or send a check to Wreaths Across America, P.O. Box 213, St. Marys, PA 15857. Wehler said the live wreaths, decorated with ribbon, will be transported to the communities at no charge by the Worchester Wreath Co. in Maine prior to a special ceremony that will be held at noon on Dec. 11 at the St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery. For more on this story, see the Nov. 13 edition of The Daily Press.