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Mount Hope Cemetery veterans to be honored during National Wreaths Across America Day

Joplin Globe - 8/17/2022

Aug. 17—WEBB CITY, Mo. — The daughter of a late World War II veteran in Webb City is aiming to decorate the headstones of more than 1,000 veterans buried at Mount Hope Cemetery later this year and is seeking support from the community.

Susie Crutcher, local project coordinator, has partnered with Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery and national nonprofit Wreaths Across America to place live wreaths at the gravesites of approximately 1,100 veterans this winter. She kicked off the project earlier this year and hopes to garner support from the community to make it a success.

Crutcher is the oldest daughter of Bruce Benson, a U.S. Army veteran of WWII who played taps on his cornet every day at sundown near the Webb City post office to display the love and patriotism he had for his country. Known widely by the community as "Webb City's Bugle Boy," Benson had lived in Webb City for 73 years. He died at age 95 in 2020.

"I've grown up with this very patriotic sense, and Dad was called over to the Fort Scott National Cemetery several times to participate in Wreaths Across America or play the bugle call as they laid the wreaths," Crutcher said. "One time, he had gone down to the J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Arkansas and played the national anthem as the trucks were pulling out with the wreaths. We got to know about it, and I've always wondered why it hasn't been done at Mount Hope."

Wreaths Across America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992.

As a 12-year-old paper boy for the Bangor Daily News, Worcester won a trip to Washington, D.C.

"That 600 acres of white tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery left an indelible impression on his mind," Crutcher said. "He grew up, and as an adult, he started Worcester Wreath Co. in Maine, and it grew. In 1992, he found himself with extra wreaths, and he remembered his experience at Arlington, so he took the wreaths to the oldest part of the cemetery, and he decorated the area. He did that on his own until about 2005, and by then, it (attracted) so much attention that there were a lot of other charities and like-minded people who wanted to help him. They formed a nonprofit in 2007, and it became the national Wreaths Across America."

The organization's mission — remember, honor, teach — is carried out in part each year by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies in December at Arlington, as well as at more than 2,900 participating locations in all 50 states and overseas. Mount Hope is a registered participating location this year.

"We remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and we teach the next generation the value of freedom," said Amber Caron, director of communications for Wreaths Across America. "This is a yearlong mission. People participate in the mission all year round in various ways in their communities. They can establish a participating cemetery to join the mission, and then they can raise awareness to place these live veterans' wreaths for National Wreaths Across America Day. It's an amazing program to see grow in communities across the country."

The goal is to secure enough wreath sponsors for 1,100 graves at Mount Hope and have volunteers place the arrangements while speaking the veterans' names aloud on National Wreaths Across America Day on Saturday, Dec. 17.

Travis Boyd, general manager at Mount Hope Cemetery, said this will be the first official campaign with Wreaths Across America.

"We did one two years ago where Sen. Bill White had some extra wreaths, and we were able to use about 500 of them," Boyd said. "This will be our first real campaign to promote it ourselves. I'd love for this to be done every year."

Wreaths can be sponsored for $15 each, which will go toward a fresh balsam wreath that will be placed on the headstones of veterans at Mount Hope Cemetery. For every two wreaths purchased, Wreaths Across America will provide three wreaths. Crutcher is also looking for volunteers to place the wreaths and speak the veterans' names aloud on Wreaths Across America Day. The deadline to sponsor a wreath is Nov. 28.

"I have 114 wreaths sponsored so far," Crutcher said. "Even if you don't have a loved one or a veteran at Mount Hope, you can still sponsor a wreath for someone else who served to just say thank you."


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