OTTAWA — “We are not here to ‘decorate graves.’ We’re here to remember not their deaths, but their lives.” — Wreaths across America

Saint Peter and Paul Cemetery in Ottawa paid tribute to their veterans this past week with Wreaths Across America Day; raising awareness of the sacrifices made by veterans for our country.

“What is nice about it, is the younger kids get involved and see the effect of what the veterans have done,” Gold Star family, the Ellerbrocks, shared while packing up their wreaths.

Vehicles filled the cemetery roads this past Saturday to load up their veteran’s wreaths after having placed them on the graves several weeks before.

“This is an amazing second year, the first year was just like this. People came out in droves, to put them out and to pick them up,” Marcia Klima, location coordinator for Ottawa, commented while waving goodbye to families leaving the site. Marcia, also a Gold Star family, began with the program over five years ago when she saw an Eagle Scout project taking place at a cemetery in Findlay. “I thought why in the world can’t I just do this at my own cemetery.”

For the past two years, Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery has hosted this noteworthy event for all of the community, honoring veterans of all military branches and their families.

The non-profit organization, Wreaths Across America, began officially in 2007 after wreaths were first laid out at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992 by Morrill Worcester and the Worcester Wreath Company which is based out of Harrington, Maine.

Now the program has grown to over 3000 locations, and 1.7 million veterans host the placing of the wreaths each December through January.

Families, local businesses, Ottawa-Glandorf National Honor Society, Cub-Scouts, Veteran groups, and the community all pitched in for this annual special Saturday, this year taking place on December 18.

“We have been having a great deal of support and interest in support, both financially to sponsor wreaths and to be participating in the event,” Marcia said, “Warren Printing supplied us with business cards both years at no cost.”

Marcia began spreading the word in 2020 at her church, fall festivals (which was a drive-through due to the pandemic), and every fundraiser attended to let people know of the organization. Within six weeks’ time, “We had over 400 wreaths sponsored to cover every veteran grave at our cemetery,” Klima said.

Most of the donations come from families for individuals wreaths for their veterans. Wreaths can be sponsored for $15 each, with each fundraising contribution going to the Wreaths Across America organization.

Not only businesses and family are donating, but truckers volunteer their time across the country to pick up and deliver the millions of wreaths to towns supporting the event.

“It is important that we remember and that we honor them, the sacrifice that the veteran has given, but also what the family has gone through. We want to be able to help promote that understanding and knowledge it,” Marcia shared.

Wreaths are said to symbolize a circle of eternal life and have been used at funerals since Ancient Greece to represent the victory of eternal spirit over death.

“The theme is to remember, honor, and teach. To remember our fallen veterans, to honor those who have served and their families, and to teach children and everybody the value of our freedom.”

Remember, Honor, and Teach.