Aria Rintz, 6, carries a wreath half as big as she is during the Wreaths Across America event Saturday. Children large and small and veterans of all ages laid wreaths on each headstone, spoke the veteran’s name and maintained a brief moment of silence for each person interred at the Beaufort National Cemetery. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

‘Everybody gets a wreath’

 For 1st time, every headstone at Beaufort National Cemetery has Remembrance Wreath 

By Erin Bowman

The announcer’s voice rang out over Beaufort National Cemetery Saturday morning over the rumble of four tractor trailers and 230 escort motorcycles. 

“And there they are, the Wreaths Across America trucks! This started out with seven wreaths at the beginning and now look at these trucks!” 

For the first time since the program began in Beaufort in 2007, every one of the 26,000 interments at the cemetery is graced with a wreath. 

Depot Sgt. Maj. Alvin Mota, left, from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and retired Marine Corps Maj. John Stump lay the Marine Corps wreath near the flag during the opening ceremony of Wreaths Across America on Saturday at Beaufort National Cemetery. About 1,500 people attended the event. Photos by Bob Sofaly.

“Everybody gets a wreath. They are all veterans, these are my brothers and sisters,” Wreaths Across America coordinator David Edwards said. 

More than 1,000 people – from as far away as Missouri and Louisiana, Edwards said – gathered to reflect and honor those buried in the cemetery.

Within minutes of the formal ceremony ending, the cemetery was already lined with rows of red and green. Family members sought out the graves of loved ones and lingered to pray, cry, or reflect quietly. Some volunteers moved more efficiently to ensure no headstone was undecorated, while others crouched carefully over one wreath after another to straighten bows and fluff greenery.

“There’s such a variety of ways people lay wreaths,” Pamela Truax said. “Some of them cry over wreaths, some of them pray, some of them talk, some of them are silent and reverent. Especially, when we’re all dealing with the grief of 2021, it’s a neat place to be.”

Cub Scout Aaron Metropolis, 9, of Pack 213, Den 6, brushes dirt off of one the headstones prior to laying a wreath Saturday during the Wreaths Across America event Saturday.

Truax came with members of the Parris Island Spouses Club. As they waited expectantly for the ceremony to begin, President Holly Vega marveled at the growing crowd.

“This is something you can bring your children to, to have them experience and ask questions,” Vega said.

Beaufort’s Wayne Koeper served four years in the Marine Corps including a tour in Vietnam in 1969. Fifty-two years later, he laid his first wreath for Wreaths Across America.

“It’s to honor all the guys I lost, friends I knew,” he said. “I was lucky.”

When handed that first wreath, Koeper considered the graves around him, laid the wreath on one, stood up and dusted off his hands silently. He summed the moment up in one word – “emotional” – before hustling off to find more wreaths.

In a quiet passing of a torch, Elaine Johnson Jones laid one of the first two wreaths distributed Saturday in Beaufort on the grave of her uncle, Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Private First Class Ralph Henry Johnson. Her mother, Helen Johnson Richards, watched as her daughter assumed the role Richards held for years until a hairline fracture made the walk difficult.

Each of the more than 19,000 headstones was decorated with a fresh Remembrance Wreath during Saturday’s Wreaths Across America event. There were 3,100 ceremonies nationwide, delivering 2.3 million wreaths to veteran’s graves.

“It made me realize why my mom always gets so emotional,” Jones said. “For one, your loved one is gone. I don’t care how many facets of honoring is done, they’re still not here.”

It was personal on another level for Jones as well, as a 20-year veteran of the Air Force. She said she was so impressed at 9 years old with how smart her uncle looked in his uniform that she was inspired to follow in his footsteps.

Cindy Clark drove down from Charleston for the wreath laying. Clark’s father, Walter Lee Davis Jr., served in the U.S. Air Force in Korea, died in 2014 and is buried in Beaufort National Cemetery. Every year, since she has participated in the wreath laying. This year, a Facebook fundraiser for her birthday raised enough to add 87 wreaths to the record-breaking total and a cause close to her heart.

“He always said the best thing he ever did was serve his country, and I was the second best,” she said of her father. “I don’t mind being second to my country.”

Erin Bowman is a former newspaper reporter living in Beaufort. After working at the Citizen’s Voice in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., she covered Beaufort for nearly four years at the Beaufort Gazette.

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Beaufort City Councilman Mitch Mitchell presents Bernice Wilson, of Port Royal, with a commemorative lapel pin