The lines of cars and ordered, solemn crowds around the Fredonia Cemetery just before 9 a.m. on Saturday, December 16, underlined the significance that morning’s Wreaths Across America event.
From left to right:
The color guard prepares for a 21-gun salute. Photo by Ty Gant.
The color guard, composed of local veterans, offers a 21-gun salute. Event photos by Ty Gant.
The flag over Kanab Cemetery with the ring of wreaths at its base.
Big thanks to the crew who delivered the wreaths to Lumber Plus in the early morning hours. Photo by Alan Seilhammer.
This traditional event is held in honor of the country’s veterans. According to the speakers, most of whom were veterans themselves from the local American Legion Post 69, this event was part of the mission to “remember the fallen and honor those who are serving and have served in this holiday season.” The event was presented twice, once in Fredonia, and once in Kanab, allowing for attendees whose veteran family members are interred in the respective cemeteries to ensure those family members were honored with a wreath. This theme of remembrance of every service member was then extended to each veteran in the cemetery as a whole, with volunteers placing wreaths on each veteran’s headstone and speaking their name aloud and thanking them for their service. According to Nina Laycook-Petty, former mayor of Kanab for whom the armed services are “considered a second family,” and who organized the first instance of this event in the area, “there are, traditionally, two deaths: the first one of the body, when the soul departs the body which is interred in the ground … and the second, when a person’s name is spoken for the last time and fades from memory.” Thus the tradition of speaking the fallen soldiers’ names aloud, to keep them alive in memory and to keep the spirit of their service alive.
Both instances of the celebration were opened with the national anthem as performed by local singers, as well as a moment of silence dedicated to “the fallen, prisoners of war and those whose last known status was ‘missing in action.’” A color guard composed of local veterans offered a 21-gun salute, the bronze casings from which were gathered and offered to family members of veterans both current and fallen as tokens. Eight wreaths were then hung in a circle around the American flag over each cemetery, symbolizing the branches of the military: Merchant Marines, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Air Force and Space Force, with one special wreath again dedicated to prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. Following that presentation, attendees honored first their passed family members who were interred in the cemetery, then the volunteers spread out to assist in honoring each fallen veteran in the cemetery.
According to Alan Seilhammer, who has taken up the responsibility of organizing the event after the hiatus imposed by COVID, “by virtue of the major support we’ve already gotten in Fredonia and Kanab, we’re looking to spread this event throughout all of Kane County … My father is active in organizing this event back in Connecticut, so I have some background with it, it is personal to me.” Seilhammer credits Laycook-Petty with the introduction of the event to the area years ago, and says, “it really is an honor to pick it up from here.”
Per Seilhammer, Wreaths Across America has about 4,000 locations decorated on an average year, following the tradition of having local veterans receive and place the initial eight wreaths around the flag for their respective branches of the armed forces. Between Kanab and Fredonia, over 500 wreaths were placed this year.
As is somewhat of a tradition, American Legion Post 69 followed the solemnities of the event with some generosity and camaraderie, offering chicken, soup and hot cocoa at a free potluck following the event.
The event’s organizers offered their gratitude for all of the sponsors and attendees that helped make the event a success, with special mention to the local Lumber Plus, who shifted their hours dramatically to accommodate an early and unexpected arrival of some of the wreaths.