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Nearly 30,000 wreaths laid at Jefferson Barracks sets record

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - 12/18/2018

Dec. 18--ST. LOUIS COUNTY --Strapped to the motorcycle Dennis Klier rode into Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery on Monday morning were two holiday wreaths.

Klier, 72, an Air Force veteran from Florissant, stopped the bike at the graves of his mother and his father, a decorated World War II pilot who died Feb. 27, 2014, at age 91. Klier laid both wreaths down on their headstones, stepped back three paces and raised his right arm in a slow military salute.

The wreaths Klier laid were among about 30,000 donated wreaths placed on the graves of American service members at Jefferson Barracks since a ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday. That's a record number in the 13 years the cemetery has taken part in Wreaths Across America.

The nonprofit effort works with local groups to coordinate wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,400 sites the country in conjunction with a national minute of silence and the laying of wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.

Klier, a member of a volunteer motorcycle group called Patriot Guard Riders that accompanies the funerals of veterans, often drives past his parents' graves and salutes them each time.

But honoring them with holiday wreaths as he has done for the past five years is different from other ceremonies honoring military service.

"Certain times and certain things trigger memories," he said. "It's a little more than just honoring their service. Today I'm also honoring my personal memories with them around the holidays."

The wreath-laying ceremony Saturday, which was attended by more than 3,000 people, was the second coordinated by the Gateway Blue Star Mothers, the local chapter of a nonprofit of mothers with sons or daughters in the armed forces.

Last year the group also collected a record number of wreaths donated by friends and family of dead service members as well as local nonprofit groups and businesses, receiving a total of about 13,000 wreaths, up from about 1,400 in 2016.

In the early years of the effort, there were on average about 1,500 wreaths or fewer, said Darryl Ryan, assistant director at Jefferson Barracks. At least 160 wreaths were placed at the cemetery in 2010.

Janelle Eveld, with Gateway Blue Star Mothers, attributed the uptick in donations in part to support from local groups including the Scott Spouses, a group of spouses of active duty members stationed at Scott Air Force Base, and the Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in military service.

"This is a good way for us to give back," said Eveld, whose late grandfather served in World War II and is buried with her grandmother at Jefferson Barracks. "To remember all of those who served and those who never made it back from war, and their families."

This year, 11,000 wreaths were sponsored by friends and family of veterans for placement at specific graves, Eveld said. About 3,000 wreaths honored unknown soldiers by special request of a cemetery employee. Every unknown soldier received a wreath.

Other cemeteries in the area, including Alton National Cemetery and Eternal Peace Cemetery in Wentzville, also took part in the event.

Wreaths Across America will begin collecting donations for next year on Jan 1.

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(c)2018 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 
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