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New Mexico's part in

National Wreaths Across America Day December 14, 2019

Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, our mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,600 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.

Grant County Beat newspaper article 05 January 2020

      CLOVIS, NM Lawn Haven Memorial & Mission Garden of Memories

       FORT BAYARD, NM 100% covered - Fort Bayard National Cemetery

Ken Ladner, mayor of Silver City, places a wreath at the Fort Bayard National Cemetery Veterans Memorial during a ceremony Saturday morning. In addition to Fort Bayard, National Wreaths Across America Day was observed at the Hurley, Santa Clara, and 1,600 other cemeteries across the U.S.

National Wreaths Across America Day is congressionally designated each year to take place on a Saturday in December — this year, Dec. 14, when about 100 people came to pay their respects to America’s veterans and families buried in Fort Bayard National Cemetery and visit the be-wreathed plots of relatives, friends and fellow servicemen.

Wreaths Across America was sparked by a wreath manufacturer’s decision in the early 1990s to dispose of its excess wreaths every year by trucking them from Maine, where they were made, to Arlington National Cemetery, where, in 2005, the placement of the wreaths and their striking appearance among the snowbound graves caught the attention of local and national media. A photograph of the wreaths in Arlington went viral in 2006.

In 2007, the Worcester family, owners of the Worcester Wreath Company, set up the nonprofit Wreaths Across America, which accepts donations from individuals and companies — Griffin’s Propane in Silver City, for example — to pay for the millions of handmade, balsam wreaths it sends to cemeteries each year. The massive quantities of wreaths are delivered by truck, and the operation is staffed by volunteers.

Paula Cooley, a volunteer for Wreaths Across America, said this year, “4,536 wreaths were ordered” for Fort Bayard, “but we were 150 wreaths short. There were only six or eight wreaths in some of the boxes. I don’t know what happened, but we made sure everyone who ordered a wreath got theirs.

“Last year was the first year to cover the entire cemetery,” Cooley added, standing among the grave markers with a clipboard. A steady wind out of the northwest streamed along the many flags raised for the occasion.

“It’s a fantastic, outstanding tribute to our veterans here at Fort Bayard,” said Susie Coker, a member of the Las Cruces chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which helped pay for and place some of the wreaths. “We chose Fort Bayard over the closer Fort Bliss National Cemetery because it’s in New Mexico.

“It should be televised, so that the sacrifices that our military makes for this country are known,” she added. “It’s an awesome day.”

Mary Cowan, a Gold Star Mother whose son, Chief Warrant Officer Aaron William Cowan, was killed in the line of duty in 2005, has organized the Fort Bayard event for 10 years, and her “dedication to service” was recognized at the ceremony Saturday.

“We need to teach our children the cost of freedom,” she told the crowd, following up on main speaker John Sterle’s explanation of the Wreaths Across America mission.

“Remember the fallen veterans; honor those who served; and teach our children the value of freedom,” Sterle said.

Army veteran and physician John Bell, of the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society, dressed in a uniform representing the one worn in the early 1900s by George Bushnell, commander at Fort Bayard during its years as a tuberculosis treatment center for the U.S. Army.

“Freedom, justice and equality: We thank those who gave their lives so we can live free,” Bell said. “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” he continued, quoting President Ronald Reagan. “… It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States, where men were free.”

Gabe Partido, forest fuels and timber manager for the Gila National Forest and a Navy veteran, placed a wreath at the memorial during the ceremony, as did Silver City mayor and veteran Ken Ladner, Doug Dinwiddie, president of the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society, veteran Ray Davis, and a handful of other men and women.

Don Spann, bugler for the Marines Corps League, played taps at the end of the ceremony.

“We put wreaths out [on the graves of] five of our friends, and we’re looking for a friend’s dad, now, to take a picture to send to them,” said Tom Shelley, who was walking across the lawn with his wife, Sandy, after the ceremony.

Gilbert Aguilera, a Navy veteran and member of the Native American Veterans Warrior Society, told the Daily Press about the day he joined the Navy in 1961. The Hurley native, who now lives in Mimbres — after a stint in California — was at the ceremony to perform “specific duties” for the Native American veterans buried at Fort Bayard.

“In 1961, two days after I graduated from Cobre, six of us joined,” he said, noting that there are many veterans with Native American ancestry interred in the cemetery. “We need to remind people that this is the homeland of the Chiricahua [Apache Tribe],” he said. “Native Americans have been in every war.”

Geoffrey Plant may be reached at [email protected]

SANTA FE, NM     Santa Fe National Cemetery