NICEVILLE, Fla. — On December 17, Christmas wreaths will be placed on the graves of nearly 800 veterans at Heritage Gardens Funeral Home & Cemetery in Niceville and Sunset Cemetery in Valparaiso as part of National Wreaths Across America Day.
The community is invited to honor our local fallen heroes by attending one of the two special local wreath-laying ceremonies at the cemeteries or volunteering on Wreaths Day, said Dora Carrano of Niceville, the local organizer for the event.
Each December, on National Wreaths Across America Day, Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 2,500 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad.
This is the first year of wreath-laying at the cemeteries in Niceville and Valparaiso, Carrano said.
“By bringing Wreaths Across America to our area, it gives me, and others within the community, the opportunity to honor our local veterans, their service, and their sacrifice,” she said.
The ceremonies in our community will both be held on Dec. 17, beginning at 11 a.m.
The keynote speaker at Sunset Cemetery is Brig. Gen. Jeffrey T. Geraghty, Commander, 96th Test Wing, Air Force Materiel Command, Eglin Air Force Base. The keynote speaker at Heritage Gardens is Col. Frederick “Trey” Coleman III, Commander, 505th Command and Control Wing, Hurlburt Field.
Each ceremony will be followed by wreath-laying, Carrano said.
In 2021, more than 2.4 million veterans’ wreaths were placed by volunteers on headstones at 3,137 participating locations around the country in honor of the service and sacrifices made for our freedoms, with each name said out loud.
The theme for the 2022 National Wreaths Across America Day is “Find a way to serve.”
As of now, it appears there will be 777 local veterans’ graves decorated with wreaths: 245 at Sunset Cemetery and 532 at Heritage Gardens. The wreaths are sponsored by donations from family and friends of fallen heroes, individuals, and businesses and through numerous local fundraising events organized by Carrano and supporters of the local effort.
In all, there are more than 1,100 veterans’ graves in the two local cemeteries. Those not receiving wreaths will be marked with an American flag, Carrano said.
The ceremony will open with a moment of silence, followed by local speakers, music, and the laying of wreaths. Everyone in attendance is encouraged to take a wreath and lay it on a veteran’s grave. The ceremony will last approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour.
The ceremony begins promptly at 11 a.m. to coincide with Arlington National Cemetery. All those attending the ceremony should be there 15 minutes prior to start time. If you are volunteering, you should arrive one hour prior to start time.
Some volunteer positions are still available and may include wreath layers and wreath clean-up. Also, active-duty military members and veterans may be needed to help with ceremonial wreaths (approximately eight individuals needed). The ceremonial wreaths represent Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Space Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, & POW/MIA.
Sunset Cemetery is on Live Oak Avenue in Valparaiso. Heritage Gardens Funeral Home & Cemetery is at 2201 Partin Drive North in Niceville.
For more information on how to volunteer locally or sponsor a wreath for an American hero, please visit: www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/FLHGFH (to support Heritage Gardens) or www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/FLSUNC (to support Sunset Cemetery).
Carrano can be reached at email@example.com.