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Linesville Cemetery among sites to honor veterans

Meadville Tribune - 12/16/2018

Dec. 16--LINESVILLE -- Precisely at noon Saturday, as church bells tolled a few blocks away, hundreds of people in Linesville Cemetery bent down to the headstones in front of them to place wreaths in honor of the veterans buried there.

As the wreaths were placed, the voices of volunteers spread throughout the cemetery could be heard saying the names of the veteran they were honoring.

The ceremony, a first in Linesville, was part of National Wreaths Across America Day, an event that has been held since 2008 at Arlington National Cemetery and hundreds of cemeteries nationwide. More than 1,500 locations were expected to participate Saturday, with volunteers laying hundreds of thousands of wreaths on veterans' graves in all 50 states as well as at sea and abroad.

"I think it was amazing to see how many people came out," said Pfc. Keri Udell, 18, of Harmonsburg. "It's an awesome way to remember veterans."

Udell, a senior at Conneaut Area Senior High who enlisted in the Army more than a year ago, was one of about 370 volunteers who participated in the event, according to Donna Hyde, who co-chaired the Wreaths Across America Linesville chapter along with Danielle Riggs. Both are members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7842 Auxiliary, which sponsored the Linesville event.

"There's a veteran that I bowl with, and she asked me if we would be interested in sponsoring a chapter," Hyde recalled after the ceremony. "It seemed like a really nice idea. We're always looking for some community involvement."

Preparations for the volunteer-intensive event began in August, Hyde said, and continued with meetings every two weeks throughout the fall.

In order to participate in the event, the Linesville chapter, like others across the country, had to be able to provide a wreath for every veteran in the cemetery. In addition to the funds for the wreaths, however, they also needed a person to place each wreath at precisely the same moment.

The wreath-laying process is broken down into individual stages for each branch of the service as well as another for those veterans who are prisoners of war or missing in action. As a result, the volunteers present were able place all of the wreaths, with some placing wreaths at graves located near one another for veterans from different branches of the service.

From the shuttle bus service that brought volunteers to the cemetery to the individual packets with cemetery maps, headstone photos and brief bios of each volunteer's veteran, the event ran smoothly from start to finish. The military precision of the event would not have been possible, according to Hyde, without the efforts of many individuals and businesses, from people who bought meals at the spaghetti dinner that raised funds for wreaths to those who provided transportation and restroom facilities on site.

Thanks to unseasonably warm weather, some of those efforts weren't needed, Hyde added, but they still had to be prepared for. Not only were tents were on hand in case of rain, she said, but Boy Scouts were on call to dust off headstones in case of snow.

Hyde was pleased with the results and the turnout, particularly given that organizers had depended largely on word of mouth to raise interest.

"Next year," she said with a smile as crowds headed back to the shuttle buses, "we expect double."

Rich Krankota, director of the Crawford County Veterans Services office and a veteran himself, was impressed by what he saw. In addressing the crowd just before the wreaths were placed, he stressed the timeliness of the "remember, honor and teach" mission that guides National Wreaths Across America Day and its efforts to educate people, especially young people, about the service of veterans.

"It is my contention that most have not been educated about this country or its history," Krankota told the hundreds arrayed behind headstones before him. "They're not getting it from home. They're not getting it from school.

"They're simply not getting it."

Few of the people Krankota had in mind were evident in Linesville Cemetery on Saturday. The people who were there, it was easy to see, were getting it -- the importance of service and of remembering those who have served.

Donna O'Brien of Meadville was one of the people who got it. She stood before the headstone of her first husband, Harrison C. Cramer Jr., a veteran of the Vietnam War who died in 1976, and bent down as the call was issued for wreaths to be placed on the graves of all of the Army veterans buried in the cemetery.

A few moments later, O'Brien called the experience "wonderful."

"I'm glad I could do it," she said. "It was a great honor for me."

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at mcrowley@meadvilletribune.com.

MORE TO KNOW

To learn more about the 410 veterans buried in Linesville Cemetery, check out the Linesville Cemetery Association Facebook page or the association's website at linesvillecemetery.org. Since May, association member Kathy Brubaker has posted brief bios for all 410 veterans on the Facebook page.

To learn more about Wreaths Across America, see wreathsacrossamerica.org.

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