Remember, honor, teach.
That is the mission of the Wreaths Across American organization — and something that Corlene Ziegler, the Auxiliary President of the Destin American Legion chapter, hopes to accomplish this Christmas season.
Founded in 2007, Wreaths Across America is a national nonprofit program that honors veterans by placing a wreath on the grave of each soldier at Christmastime. On Dec. 15, more than 1,200 sites across the country will be participating, including Arlington National Cemetery.
Three of those sites, with over 200 veteran graves, are located in Destin. The wreaths cost $15 and Ziegler recently got the last sponsorship she needed to make sure every veteran’s grave receives a wreath.
“We wanted to specifically honor each one of our veterans and to teach our children,” Ziegler said. “It’s important to realize we’re not decorating the graves and we’re not honoring their deaths. We’re honoring the lives that they lived and that they were willing to give up for the rest of us.”
A short ceremony will kick off the laying of the wreaths at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Phase 1 of the Destin Memorial Cemetery.
Since June, Ziegler, who served in the Marines, said she has been working nonstop to make this event happen.
“We really want someone from each branch to lay the ceremonial wreaths during the ceremony,” Ziegler said. “I have calls out to a few people, but we really need a Merchant Marine and a bugler to play taps.”
But she won’t be able to do it alone and is hoping the community will help show their support.
“We need people to help place wreaths and escort the elderly,” she said. “I don’t need 1,000, just 15 or 20 would be perfect.”
She hopes that residents will bring their children to help accomplish the teaching aspect of WAA mission.
“I would love it if you had a 6-year-old, or a 10-year-old, and you brought them and showed them the significance of this,” she said.
“On Dec. 1, we (WAA) placed 9,387 wreaths at Normandy,” Ziegler said, her voice catching. “If you took 9,387 people out of Destin, how many would you have left? And those were young, young men. People don’t understand the price.”
The gravesites at phases 1 and 2 of the Destin Memorial Cemetery and Marler Cemetery will be marked with U.S. flags to make it easy for volunteers to find them.
“You place the wreath on the gravestone, stand up and say the person’s name, and thank them for their service,” she said. “It’s a really, really respectful thing to do.”
For more information or to volunteer to help with the WAA event, contact Corlene Ziegler at (850) 424-3746 or firstname.lastname@example.org.