By Sherrie Norris
Joining thousands of others last weekend in the annual Wreaths Across America project, two Watauga County natives traveled to Washington to participate in the country’s largest related event at Arlington National Cemetery.
Longtime friends Melanie Hollar and Anita Eggers made “a quick trip to DC,” they described, to honor loved ones and other fallen United States veterans during the annual memorial event held each year in December.
Wreaths Across America (sponsored by an organization of the same name) takes place at more than 3,400 locations across the country, at sea and abroad, according to the organization’s website.
“While coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies each December on National Wreaths Across America Day is a big part of what we do, our mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out throughout the year.”
Representing their High Country home at the event, the women joined thousands of others in carrying out the mission from coast to coast and beyond.
Prior to the day of remembrance, fundraisers had been held in nearly every corner of the country by school, scout, civic and religious groups for wreath sponsorships, ensuring that wreaths were placed on as many hero’s graves as possible.
“Humbling” is how Hollar and Eggers best described their recent experience.
“My hero, Bernie Lee, a Marine now deceased, introduced me to Wreaths Across America in 2018. Anita and I decided to go together this year as I honored Bernie and she honored her father, an Army veteran. Wow! What an experience. And, I got to hug a man whose son was killed in 2019.”
Hollar remembers well Lee’s example — that by volunteering one Saturday a year in December, respect and honor could be given to those who have sacrificed for our freedoms.
“I went with Bernie and other local veterans to Salisbury to volunteer . . . to lay wreaths on the graves of those buried at the national cemetery there. I was very humbled and continued to stay involved. While at Salisbury, I was asked by some people I go to church with to place a wreath on their parents’ graves and was honored to do just that.”
In 2019, Hollar said, she visited Arlington National Cemetery after the wreaths had been placed on the graves. “Just being there and seeing all those grave covered with wreaths,, I was once again touched by how this simple act of volunteering one Saturday a year in December made such an impact. I knew then that I would eventually return to DC to participate/volunteer to do this.”
And so it was, this past weekend, Saturday, Dec. 17, she did just that.
“What a beautiful and touching experience it was,” she said. “People of all ages — children, veterans, Boy Scouts, school groups, organizations and others, just like myself and Anita — placing wreaths on the graves of our American heroes. I was able to thank veterans I met, talk to family members of those buried there, and for one day, we all came together to pay respect and honor to others.”
While at Arlington, the duo placed a wreath on the grave of the parents of friend, Sue Sweeting of Blowing Rock.
“I remember how Bernie talked about wanting to go to Arlington one day to place wreaths there, but he never got to go. So, I went for him, and my friend, Anita went to honor her dad.”
The women encourage others — individuals, families, friends and organizations — to participate in this mission. “And you don’t have to travel to DC — you can volunteer at local national cemeteries. I’ve tried to educate and encourage people about volunteering or even buying a wreath to have placed on a veterans grave.”
Eggers, who now lives in Lexington, but also spends time with her mother in Watauga County since her father’s death, plans for her family to make this trip together next year. “I was honored to have participated in the placing of the wreaths, a very humbling experience, to honor my father and others who have served to protect our freedom. God bless all the families that have lost loved ones — and thank you to all who have served.”
Visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org for more information.