“Taps” and “God Bless America” echoed across the Beaufort National Cemetery on Saturday during the annual Wreaths Across America event where fallen military members were honored.
The annual event began in 2006 after an image of wreaths placed at Arlington National Cemetery spread on the internet and generated requests for wreaths throughout the country. Seven ceremonial wreaths were placed in Beaufort that year.
This year’s 11,007 wreaths nearly doubled organizers’ goal of 6,000 wreaths. And the number is up from 5,386 wreaths in 2017, organizer David Edwards said.
When someone pays to sponsor a wreath — $15 per wreath, but sponsors could order as many as they would like — the wreaths are placed on trucks and driven from Maine by volunteers.
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Edwards shared photos and video of the wreaths arriving and being unpacked at Pepsi Beverages Company in Burton. He wanted everyone who donated a wreath from afar to see the process.
He planned to take pictures of individual wreaths on headstones and send them to families from out of state who donated.
There are more than 25,000 grave sites in Beaufort National Cemetery. Representatives for the cemetery’s two Medal of Honor recipients, Ralph Johnson and John James McGinty, received wreaths first, followed by family members of those buried in the cemetery.
Volunteers distributed the remaining wreaths.
“We’ve done everything we can do to make this where everybody who has a family member interred out there, we honor their veteran,” Edwards said.
Helen Richards, Johnson’s sister, came to honor her brother.
“”He was a loving and caring man,” Richards said. “He was always helping others and putting them before himself.”
Johnson, a Private First Class in the Marine Corps, died in 1968 in Vietnam. He was 19, and had only been in the country for 90 days. Several of his nieces and grand nieces continue to honor him through their own military service, Richards said.
Donnie Beer, a volunteer and former city councilwoman, placed a wreath on the grave of Johnnie Doctor Jr., a member of the Navy who died in the Pentagon on September 11.
“I have all the respect in the world for the military,” Beer said. “I’ve been coming to this ever since they started doing it.”