Wreath ceremony at Veterans Cemetery remembers those who served
BOSCAWEN - About 400 people gathered near a garage at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery Saturday morning to make 900 holiday wreaths that would be laid on the gravestones of those who served in the military.
As trucks arrived with scores of formed but undecorated wreaths, the crowd of mostly military families shook hands and laughed, sharing stories and holiday joy together.
As families took turns attaching bows on the wreaths, it became clear that despite the setting and despite Friday's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., this was a joyous occasion.
After saying the Pledge of Allegiance and taking a moment of prayer for past and presently serving veterans, Karen Thurston, president of the New Hampshire Blue Star Mothers, asked for a moment of silence for those who died in Connecticut on Friday.
"Even in a day of sorrow, this is a joyous event," said Thurston, whose organization started holding New Hampshire's version, called "Wreaths for Boscawen," of the national event in 2007.
"It's never fun to be around gravesites," she said. "But you look at how much fun and Christmas spirit there is, and you see all of these families meeting for the first time and sharing their stories. It gets better every year."
Blue Star Mothers of America is a support group of mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, grandparents, extended family and friends, all of whom have, or have had, a loved one in the military.
"We support each other, our military and veterans," she said.
After the wreaths were distributed to the graves on Saturday, the New Hampshire Civil Air Patrol held a smaller ceremony to place wreaths at the cemetery's memorials for each of the five military branches.
Some of those attending had a family member buried in the cemetery. Others laid wreaths at graves of soldiers they had never met.
Kate Merchant of Webster kneeled with her son, Trevor, near the headstone of Trevor's grandfather, Vernon Merchant Jr., helping him carefully lay the wreath. Vernon Merchant Jr., a U.S. Navy veteran, died in 2002.
Her face red with tears, she said, "We miss him very much."
"I think it's very important to give back in some way," Merchant said. "These people fought for our freedom."
Johanne Duchesne of Dunbarton has a son, Manchester Police Officer Jonathan Duchesne, who served in the U.S. Army. But she was there to honor other veterans, laying a wreath at a random gravestone.
"There's not much in the news about them anymore, but we can never forget them," she said.
"For some people, there's an empty chair at the table, and someone is going to be missing someone's birthday, or graduation, or wedding. We have to honor these people and their families," she said.
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Dan Seufert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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