The community of Oakdale along with a few service organizations has once again stepped up in an impactful way.
Through the early efforts of Cub Scout Troop 365 and Boy Scout Troop 365 under the leadership of Scout Leader Doug Creekpaum, Wreaths Across America now has an official home in Oakdale.
“This is the first year that we are signed on as the actual participating cemetery,” Oakdale Citizens Cemetery Board of Trustees Secretary Melinda Owen said, though the placing of wreaths has been done there in years past.
Wreaths Across America is a national event where wreaths are placed on the graves of fallen military personnel. It is hosted annually on the third Saturday of December beginning at noon, Eastern Time. Cemeteries throughout the US host their event at the appropriate corresponding time, so the ceremonies are being hosted simultaneously.
According to Owen she first learned of the wreath program over 20 years ago while watching a television show. A wreath maker had a number of leftover wreaths and asked a truck driver what they should do with them. The decision was made to take them to Arlington National Cemetery the first year. The following year he made sure he had enough to cover all of Arlington.
“I think most of the National Veterans cemeteries have this program,” Owen said. “I know Santa Nella does.”
Owen got her first surprise which lead to inspiration for the program two years ago when Troop 365 sponsored seven wreaths which were delivered. Last year 36 were delivered and a very small ceremony was hosted.
“They raised money to sponsor those wreaths,” Owen said, noting it takes a $15 donation to sponsor a wreath. For every $15 received, $5 goes toward the cemetery for upkeep and expenses.
“I signed the cemetery up as a location and then a participant, which allows us to earn money from it,” she said. “We’ve sold almost 900 or sponsored almost 900 wreaths. But the main thing is that we honor our veterans.”
The news of OCC taking on this event some might say landed in the ears of the right people. Earlier this fall, Pacific Project Heroes gifted Owen on behalf of OCC with a check for $5,000 to be used toward the Wreaths Across America effort.
“Their initial donation of $5,000 covered securing 333 wreaths,” Owen said, adding that since then she has received several additional large donations of $1,000 to $1,500, but mostly donations have been made by family members wishing to honor a soldier.
In Oakdale, the ceremony this year will be Dec. 18 at 9 a.m., corresponding with the noon program on the east coast.
With additional attention and all veterans now being honored at OCC, Owen anticipates a large gathering on that third Saturday of December. A reverent ceremony will be conducted primarily by the troop master. The Cub Scouts will also lead the Pledge of Allegiance and Barbara Findlay will sing the National Anthem.
Anticipating a larger than average crowd, Owen encouraged attendees to bring chairs for the ceremony and allow extra time for parking as cemetery entrances will be closed to traffic.
“The main focus is the veterans and their families that are still here,” she said of the service. “We have a lot of volunteers that are coming from the Pacific Project Heroes group.”
She also is encouraging anybody that has a family member buried at OCC or a friend that they may have sponsored a wreath for to attend and place the wreath on that grave.
“I know that we’re the only cemetery around that has actually met our goal of getting enough wreaths to sponsor all our veterans’ graves,” she shared.
She also wants to remind people that it is not a ‘one and done’ event; it is an annual project, every third Saturday in December.
“This is an ongoing annual project. We fundraise all year long, it would be wonderful if we had it all financed by the summer. Money can be sent in ahead of time,” she said.
Jumping from 37 wreaths to 900 in one year might seem unbelievable to some. For Owen, she shared achieving the goal of 900 was not optional. She and a few others hit the ground hard with no intention of stopping until the goal was reached.
“I think it’s not only important to do in our community, but it is across our nation because we need to be grateful, for the people who gave their lives, who fought for us,” Owen stated. “Unfortunately, a lot of our young people have no clue. Even people who are middle aged, a lot of them have no clue as to why. For one thing we’re not teaching history to our kids anymore. We’re eliminating our history. We’re changing our history to what some people want it to be. So it’s very, very important for them to learn this.”
Persons interested in making a donation any denomination for further wreaths may do so by mailing a check to: OCC/Wreaths Across America, PO Box 600, Oakdale, CA 95361.
“This is going to happen rain or shine,” Owen said of the ceremony, “because our veterans, our service members served us rain or shine.”