MARTIN (December 14) – Locally, volunteers supporting Wreaths Across America at Eastside Cemetery in Martin have been working hard to ensure that as many of the more than 600 service members buried there will indeed be honored again this year with the placement of live, balsam veterans’ wreaths as part of National Wreaths Across America Day 2020, which is Saturday, December 19. With the help of local businesses, organizations, and individuals, more than 260 veterans will be honored. This is approximately 90 more than last year, according to Linda Smith, Location Coordinator for Martin.
Volunteers and organizations worked with individuals and businesses to have wreaths sponsored locally for this year’s program. United States Air Force veteran and Shoe Shack business owner Bennie Castleman of Martin will serve as the guest speaker for Saturday’s event. Castleman is a former Weakley County Commissioner and also served with the Tennessee National Guard Unit out of Union City.
On Monday, volunteer truck driver, Glenn Kellogg, delivered the truckload of wreaths to a location in Martin where they are stored until this weekend’s event. Kellogg is an eight-year U.S. Army veteran, serving from 1984-1987 and 1990-1994 as a cook and truck driver. He has been a truck driver for Tyson Foods for nearly 18 years and volunteered for the first time in support of getting sponsored wreaths to different parts of the country.
Kellogg’s journey began Wednesday, December 9, bound for Maine with 3,564 wreaths in his trailer. The Tulsa, Oklahoma resident had 10 stops on his trek, with Martin serving as his 8th drop-off. After leaving Martin Monday morning, he headed to Wildersville and finished in Shiloh with his deliveries.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity and I’m glad I was able to do it this year. I hope I will be able to do it next year,” Kellogg shared. The truck driver also noted he heard several locations received fewer sponsored wreaths this year as opposed to years’ past.
Weakley County, however, saw an increase of nearly 100 sponsored wreaths compared to last year as volunteers plan to place 269 on veterans’ graves Saturday.
This year, the ceremonies that are held across the country at more than 2,200 participating locations, may look a little different. The national nonprofit is making every effort to meet CDC recommended safety guidelines while also adhering to state, local, and cemetery safety measures that have been implemented due to COVID-19.
At Eastside Cemetery, the following modifications have been made to maintain a safe and successful event. Smith stated, “Just last week, Cemetery Director, Mike Brundige and I reviewed the ability to continue with a live Wreath Laying Ceremony. We both agreed that it was important to ensure the safety of all who attend on Saturday, as well as the larger community. As a result of this discussion, two practices are required, as indicated below.” Smith continued, “I am certain that all in attendance understand the need for safety and will respect others and act responsibly. “
Required practices for safety at the Wreath Laying Ceremony include social distancing and the wearing of masks.
According to Smith, additional safety measures will be taken for those speaking, as well as in the distribution of wreaths. Although not absolutely necessary, those interested in participating in this year’s wreath placement are encouraged to register to volunteer so that they can be kept up-to-date on details for the day as it gets closer. To register to volunteer go to www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/pages/152858.
“It is important that during challenging times we all take a moment to remember those who have met and overcome challenges – like our nation’s military and their families – and show unity in our American spirit while we work together in an effort to march forward in the face of what seems to be insurmountable odds,” said Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America. “We are so grateful to the good people of this great nation for participating in the mission to Remember, Honor and Teach.” Smith indicated that she agreed with Ms. Worcester’s comments. She said, “I wanted to take this further. In order to do so, 10 wreaths will specifically be placed on the grave sites of veterans whose service duty was related to emergency services in some way.”