By The Associated Press
NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — The nearly 400 deep green Christmas wreaths that now decorate headstones at the Natchez National Cemetery make for a pretty scene, but the message of the wreaths is bigger.
The wreaths are placed as a reminder of the service of past and present members of the armed forces, Vietnam veteran Oscar Seyfarth said.
Seyfarth is the local organizer of a national project, Wreaths Across America, that provides wreaths to be laid at national cemeteries across the nation each December.
“The freedoms we enjoy today have come with a price,” Seyfarth said.
The wreaths are a reminder that veterans and active duty military personnel are worthy of thanks and remembrance year-round, and not just on the few holidays celebrated each year.
Seyfarth said veterans and those currently serving are often forgotten or looked over in every day life, but it is those heroes who should be celebrated.
“When you seen a veteran or an active member of the armed forces, take a moment to thank them,” Seyfarth said. “We want to thank those who gave their lives and say, ‘We will not forget you.'”
The wreaths were placed on tombstones during a ceremony Saturday that included active duty military, veterans, elected officials and community members.
Natchez High School senior Ebony Mitchell, 18, along with other members of the Natchez High ROTC program, helped place the wreaths on graves. She said taking part in the ceremony for the first time was a special occasion.
“You feel connected to the people who are buried here when you do this,” she said. “It is a tribute to the ones who have served and fallen.”
Mitchell said she plans to join the U.S. Air Force after graduating in May. She said seeing this ceremony gives her future service new meaning.
“You are definitely thankful for the people who have served, and I want to be a part of that,” she said.
State Sen. Bob Dearing of Natchez, who was a guest speaker at the ceremony, said the sacrifices made by those who serve in the military are immeasurable.
He told the story of his former student, Calvin Halford, who he coached on the football field. Dearing said while Halford didn’t have the biggest build at 5-feet-4-inches and 115 pounds as a ninth-grader, he always played with toughness and determination.
When Halford went out for the high school football team, he was told he wasn’t big enough to play high school football, Dearing said. Dearing said the student graduated from high school without playing football, but soon after graduation entered the Army and was deployed to Vietnam.
“He was in Vietnam for less than two weeks, and he was killed,” Dearing. “(He was told) he was too small to play football, but he was big enough to give his life.”
Seven wreaths are displayed to represent each of the branches of the armed forces and one for prisoners of war and missing in action.
The wreath company, Worcester Wreath Company in Maine, provides those wreaths, but the remaining wreaths were sponsored by individuals and organizations. The 391 wreaths displayed this year more than triples the number displayed last year.
The goal is to have a wreath to place on each of the approximately 6,500 headstones at the Natchez National Cemetery.