Near the front entrance of Riverside Cemetery is the grave of Corp. Chambers C. Bunting Jr., who died in World War I almost a century ago but is not forgotten this Christmas.
His grave and those of about 400 other military veterans were adorned with wreaths Saturday by volunteers as a part of Wreaths Across America, an effort to remember deceased war veterans during Christmas.
About 900 identical ceremonies across the U.S. took place Saturday, all starting at noon. Brig. Gen. Walter Lindsley, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, gave the keynote address for the Riverside ceremony.
He noted that it was only last year that Macon joined in the effort, and that ceremony drew about 30 people who laid about 40 wreaths. This year’s ceremony drew about 150 people, who laid 407 wreaths. The wreaths of fresh balsam, with a red ribbon, cost $15 each and were paid for with donations.
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Lindsley said Wreaths Across America originated in 1992 when a wreath maker in Maine was trying to figure out what to do with some leftover wreaths he had at Christmas. He had the idea of sending the wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery to place on older graves that didn’t draw many visitors. That went on each Christmas for years until a photo taken in 2005 at one of the ceremonies on a snowy day went viral and spawned the nationwide effort.
“The outpouring from that time until today has changed what was one wreath laying to 900,” Lindsley said, “... I just want to say how wonderful it is to look out at you today and say that this team, at Riverside, in Macon, Georgia, is one of those 900.”
Peggy Thompson, chairwoman of the event, said there are about 18,000 graves in the cemetery, and about 4,000 to 5,000 are believed to be those of veterans. As a direct result of the Wreaths Across America ceremony, volunteers are going through all obituaries of those in the cemetery to identify all of the veterans, because many of the markers or cemetery records do not specify that.
They selected graves to try to cover all sections of the cemetery, and veterans of all wars. She hopes that eventually they will raise enough money to put a wreath on the grave of every veteran.
“If we can increase 10-fold from one year to the second, then I think we can absolutely get there,” she said.
After the ceremony, groups of volunteers scattered throughout the cemetery to lay the wreaths. Each one included a short ceremony of a prayer, the reading of the name and the war in which the veteran served and an expression of thanks. Military members participating saluted at each one.
Air Force Reserve Staff Sgt. Paul Wilkerson, of Eastman, was among the volunteers.
“I love having the opportunity to be able to remember our veterans and give honor to them,” he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.