Two cemeteries in Colusa County participated in the official National Wreaths Across America Day program on Saturday.
Residents laid fresh balsam fir wreaths with red bows on the graves of hundreds of veterans buried in the Colusa and Stonyford cemeteries.
The gesture was not to decorate the graves for the holidays but to remember veterans as they lived, and to thank them for their service.
“We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives,” said Daniell Hendricks, Colusa Cemetery manager. “Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful nation.”
About 2,200 ceremonies were held simultaneously across the country.
Unlike Veterans Day, which recognizes the service of all veterans – living or dead – and Memorial Day, which honors those killed in action, Wreaths Across America is a ceremony in which people gather as one nation to remember the fallen, honor those who served – and their families – and to teach the next generation the value of freedom.
“We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society made up of many people, from many walks of life,” said Jay Sanchinelli-Huttman, who organized the first Wreaths Across American ceremony held at the Indian Valley Cemetery, in Stonyford. “The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price.”
As people scurried to place wreaths on graves, they were encouraged to say the veteran’s name aloud and take a moment to thank them.
Among the names on the headstones where wreaths were placed were John G. Taylor, who was a drummer serving with the 51st Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War. He died at the age of 84 in 1925.
Henry Helphenstine was a corporal with the 354th Motor Truck Company during World War I, while James Watt Sr. ran supplies.
Anne Elva Roderick was an officer in the U.S. Army during World War II. Claude Roderick, buried next to her, also served in the same branch of the military during the war.
Joseph Zwald served in Korea.
All the wreaths were purchased by community members and the family of the veterans. They are matched by Wreaths Across America if purchased very early. Still, there were not enough wreaths for every veteran.
There were 460 wreaths purchased for Colusa this year, but a shipping error left the cemetery short 100.
The shortage will be credited for next year, Hendricks said.
The more than 300 wreaths for the program arrived on Friday and were given a police escort through Colusa.
Wreaths were specifically purchased in honor and memory of dozens of local veterans, including Deward Chambers, Barney Gonzalez, Wayne Hoblit, J.R. Biggs, Raymond Peterson, Gerald Sartain, Art Torres, and many others.
Seven Millers – Paul, Paul P, Jim, R.D, Ed, Robert, and Charles had wreaths purchased for their graves.
Wyatt Hicks-Nelson, 7, placed a sponsored wreath on the grave of Pvt. Rick Edward Reister, a close friend of his uncle, Jose Guizar.
Reister, 18, was killed in a traffic accident on Dec. 28, 2004, while reporting to work at the recruiting station in Yuba City. He had just graduated from Colusa High School that June, had plans to marry his high school sweetheart, Vanessa Garcia, and he had dreamed of joining the U.S. Marine Corps for most of his life.
The Williams Police Department sponsored the wreath for Ruben “Boy” Lopez, who was killed by a roadside bomb in 2011 while serving with the 10th Mountain Division in the Afghanistan War.
Like Reister, Lopez had wanted to do something special with his life, and had found it in the U.S. Army, according to a letter he wrote home before his death, which was read aloud Saturday by his sisters, Monica Palmer and Renee’ Silva.
“Do not cry or be sad for me, but celebrate with me,” Lopez wrote. “We live to die, not live and then die. Life on earth is not the end, but a journey.”
Both ceremonies included a moment of silence and the playing of Taps.
In Colusa, special wreaths were laid for each branch of the military by active duty members Milton Gonzalez, Special Forces U.S. Army; Corp. Issac Bedolla, Marines; Petty Officer Dennis Sanders, Navy; E2 Seaman Audrey Pearson, Air Force; and Officer Trainee John Barron, Coast Guard.
Airman 1st Class Rodney King, a friend of Lopez, laid a wreath in honor of Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.
Participants in the Colusa Wreaths Across America ceremony included Colusa VFW Post No. 2441, Maxwell American Legion Post No. 218, Boy Scouts Troop No. 5, Cub Scouts Pack No. 5, Colusa Girl Scouts Troops No. 1764, No. 3806, and No. 4134.
Lexi Avera and Karsyn Gwinnup performed the National Anthem. Pastor Ken Edwards, Colusa Assembly of God, gave the invocation.
A volley of three rifle shots were fired at the Colusa cemetery to honor those who have been laid to rest. Two pilots from the Hold My Beer Flying Club did a fly over during the ceremony to thank all veterans for their service.
Editors note: This article has been modified from the printed version to reflect the attendance of E2 Seaman Audrey Pearson.