Army of volunteers brave cold, rain to decorate graves at Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery

Wreaths Across America donates fresh wreath for each grave of US service members

SAN ANTONIO – An army of volunteers braved the cold rain Saturday to take part in what has become an annual holiday tradition at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

Hundreds of people took time to honor the men and women who gave their lives for the country by decorating each grave with a fresh wreath, adorned with a simple red bow.

It's part of a nationwide program called "Wreath Across America." Originally started in 1992 by the Worcester Wreath Company, which donated extra wreaths for graves at Arlington National Cemetery, the program has now spread across the country.

At Fort Sam Houston on Saturday, Dave Mott joined family members from five different states to decorate the graves. For him, it's become a family tradition.

"I'm a truck driver for Walmart, and I've done the trip from Harrington, Maine, where these wreaths are all made," Mott said. "I did the trip all the way to Arlington in 2012 and brought my son with me that particular time. He's an Army Ranger, and we went in and laid wreaths in Arlington. And it becomes something you have to do once you've done it once."

Mott was not at all surprised to see hundreds of volunteers, arms filled with wreaths, walking in the cold rain to decorate each grave.

"There's still traffic coming in through here, and we started hours ago. We wanted everyone to get a chance to grab some wreaths and lay them on a headstone and say the names out loud," Mott said. "It's a wonderful thing to remember, honor and teach — that's their motto — and to bring the young kids into it, and to honor those that have given their life for service and for our freedom in this country. And it’s a wonderful thing."

Paxton Cornelison, a 9-year-old fourth grader, was volunteering with his parents, both of whom served in the Air Force.

"I want to honor the people who sacrificed their lives for ours," Paxton said. "We care about the soldiers, and we want to honor them."

Paxton's mother, Jennifer Cornelison, said she wanted her son to learn about those who sacrificed for their country and to see how a community can come together to accomplish a goal.

"I would like my son to have an understanding that we do for others, and I want to inspire community service in him so he gives to others," Jennifer Cornelison said. "I want him also to see everybody that was out here today, because there's so many people and it's so heartwarming to know that it's not just our family that cares. It's all of San Antonio."

Venessa Avant's parents and a sibling are buried at Fort Sam. While she visits their graves regularly throughout the year, she had never participated in the Wreaths Across America program until Saturday. She said she's hooked and will be back again.

"I just want to cry because it’s a very emotional moment to see that all of the graves are eventually going to be filled by the end of this so that each person will have a wreath on their tombstone," Avant said. "I see making this a tradition. I'm going to come out here every year and just volunteer my service for the military."

About the Author:

Tim Gerber is an investigative reporter and anchor on the KSAT Defenders team.