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Christmas is a great time of year. And there’s never a bad time to honor veterans. They kind of go together like wreaths and final resting places.
In a nutshell, that’s the driving sentiment behind Wreaths Across America. While it’s a national initiative, it’s one that Bonnie Loy has taken to heart and localized.
Inadvertently, Loy’s actions have produced another great local Christmas story.
“It does represent Christmas,” said Loy, a 69-year-old resident of Jackson Township. “When I think of wreaths and evergreens, I think of long-lasting.”
“Veterans took part of their lives and gave it to us,” Loy continued. “They didn’t have to do that. I don’t think people look at veterans the same any more. The other thing with the Christmas holiday, it’s tough on families when they have members away. It’s tougher at Christmas time. That feeling peaks over the holidays. This is a way to support veterans and their families. Your neighbors count.”
For more years than she’s willing to count, Loy has been placing wreaths on the graves of veterans interred at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville during the middle of December, through the national program Wreaths Across America. That is until last year.
Last year, Loy broke out on her own. Figuring The Gap had enough volunteer wreath layers, Loy’s mission became to place a wreath on the grave of every veteran, who served ever, buried in Lebanon County.
A daunting undertaking, no question. But what you have to understand about Loy is that she’s moved by the spirit – of Christmas past, present and future.
“First of all, it’s not just one season for me,” said Loy. “I’ve always told people I bleed red, white and blue. I love our country, even though it’s not perfect. In my way of thinking, I want to pay it forward, and pay back. That has to do with my family, my community and my country. It’s how God wired me. I’m a worker bee.
“Part of this year’s theme with Wreaths Across America is to be an active American,” continued Loy. “ Be a good American, but also be an active American. Be there for your country. Be there for your community. Try to do the right thing. Try to do good.”
Through the Wreaths Across America program, more than 600 wreaths will be delivered to Loy’s local cause at Ebenezer Fire Company in North Lebanon township, on Saturday, Dec. 12. A week later, on Saturday, Dec. 19 at noon – on Wreaths Across America day nationally – those wreaths will be laid on the graves of local veterans buried at Covenant Greenwood Ebenezer Cemetery, during a 30-minute ceremony.
“When you say, ‘Bonnie, why do you do it?,’” said Loy, who was employed at the Lebanon VA hospital for 30 years. “It’s to honor our service men and women. My husband’s a veteran. Veterans have always been near and dear to my heart. I’m very thankful for every person who has served.
“I felt called to do this,” added Loy. “I will continue to do this as long as I can. This is my second year doing this. When I was helping at The Gap, I felt like I needed to do more. The Gap has so many people helping, and I’m very happy about that. My concern is that there are so many veterans buried at cemeteries that aren’t national cemeteries. I was concerned about them.”
The Wreaths Across America memorial ceremony planned for the Ebenezer Cemetery on Dec. 19 will be an emotional, heart-warming event.
Each of the five service branches of the United States, as well as POWs and MIAs, will be recognized, with two gentlemen playing ‘Taps’ and the presence of a rider-less horse. As each wreath is laid on a grave, the names of the service men or women will be recited aloud, along with the phrase, ‘Thank you for your service’.
“There are 1,100 veterans buried at Ebenezer cemetery,” said Loy. “I have 600 wreaths coming. Would I like to cover all 1,100? Absolutely. But considering the year we’ve had, I’m happy with that number. But it makes me sad not to be able to cover them all. I feel all veterans nationwide should be honored.
“I am aware of folks who, a couple years ago, placed some wreaths at the soldier’s block at Mount Lebanon cemetery,” continued Loy. “I was hoping that by getting the word out, other (local) cemeteries would get involved. If I had the time and the resources, every veteran’s grave in Lebanon County would get a wreath placed on it. There are many, many cemeteries in Lebanon County.”
Loy said that traditionally, the wreaths laid at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery have been recovered from the graves in January, before being disposed. Last year, the wreaths that Loy laid at Covenant Greenwood Ebenezer Cemetery remained on the veterans’ graves until the onset of spring.
“At Ebenezer, we feel like the wreaths are green and they still look nice, so we take them off on the third Saturday in March,” said Loy, who grew up in the Ebenezer area. “It’s what I plan on doing this year. So what do we do with the wreaths we remove from the cemeteries? We dispose of them, but there is a fee involved.
“Oh no, I couldn’t tell you how many wreaths I’ve placed (over the years). I don’t know,” added Loy. “When I was doing it at The Gap, I would just show up on those particular days.”
The Wreaths Across America non-profit organization was founded in 1992 by Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine. When Worcester was 12, he had made a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, outside of Washington, D.C., which made a lasting impression on him.
“From what I understand, at the beginning, a company had a plan to honor veterans at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Loy. “This started in the early 1990s. The Worcester Wreath Company had a tree farm in Maine, and they had a glut of extra trees. Instead of letting it go to waste, the owner thought, ‘Let’s reach out to the Arlington cemetery and show we care.’ It’s grown and grown since then.
“It’s kind of taken on a life of its own,” Loy added. “This is for the family of loved ones who served in the military. This is a community saying, ‘We care’.”
The Wreaths Across America program is funded through donations. The wreaths cost $15. Interested individuals can help support the cause by contacting Loy at 717-269-9260 or by visiting WreathsAcrossAmerica.org and entering the following code ‘PA0449’ for Ebenezer Beautification Committee.
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