Wreaths bring tribute full circle
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
WaKEENEY -- William and Liz Hilmes want their son to learn the importance of remembering and honoring those who fight for our country.
Their 6-year-old son Gage accompanied his parents to Saturday's solemn Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Kansas Veterans Cemetery in their hometown.
The Hilmes family, placing a wreath on the grave of Williams' dad -- U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Larry William Hilmes -- was among several participating in the ceremony.
Another was Marion Lovitt, Ness City.
Clyde Lovitt served for three years in Europe as an Army Spec 4, and he and his wife moved to western Kansas from California four and a half years ago.
He was diagnosed with cancer approximately two months ago and died a week later, and Marion Lovitt was emotional as she carefully placed the wreath in front of her husband's headstone Saturday.
But she gave a nod of satisfaction as she stepped back to inspect the site.
"This is where he wanted to be buried," Lovitt said as she looked out across the rows of headstones. "This is a nice ceremony."
Saturday marked the 22nd anniversary of Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine, donating wreaths for the headstones of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.
Worcester also donates seven ceremonial wreaths to more than 570 state, national and local cemeteries throughout the country, and the WaKeeney cemetery is in its eighth year of participating.
During Saturday's ceremony, American Legion Riders stood with American flags as representatives of each military branch placed a wreath on hangers, representing the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as the Merchant Marines and the 93,129 prisoners of war or missing in action.
Following the ceremony, family members were able to select a wreath from a trailer to place on their loved one's grave site.
Wreaths were purchased for $15 each, and Heidi Goff, manager of the veterans' cemetery, said each and every grave was able to get a wreath.
"Every year, we've had more than enough donations for each grave," said Goff, who added the wreaths would remain on the graves through the end of January.
Lt. Col. Errol Wuertz of the Kansas Wing Civil Air Patrol encouraged those present to find a grave, then go home and check out that person.
"Research that name, and you find they were real Americans with families," Wuertz said. "They are more than just a statistic."