OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
If you’re passing down Nelson Drive on the north side of base, you will see an occasional visitor laying a bouquet or wreath of flowers by a headstone at the Offutt Cemetery.
This past year, the Offutt Officers Spouses’ Club was looking for a way to get more involved in the community and celebrate the lives of those buried at the cemetery. After some research, they decided to partner with the Wreaths Across America, a national program that coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies across the country.
Teaming with Chief Peter Franco, a member of the Chief’s group who is responsible for the up-keep of the cemetery, they got to work.
On Dec. 15, hundreds of military cemeteries across the U.S., including Offutt, took part in Wreaths Across America.
“The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price,” said guest speaker Shannon Manion, wife of 55th Wing Commander Col. Michael Manion. “In cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear.”
Wreaths Across America has humble beginnings dating back to 1992 in Maine. Morrill Worcester, a wreath company owner, had a surplus of wreaths toward the end of the holiday season and wasn’t sure what to do with them. Remembering a visit he took to the Arlington National Cemetery as a young boy, he, along with the help of some volunteers, delivered and placed the wreaths at less visited sections of the cemetery.
Fifteen years later, Wreaths Across America was established as a non-profit organization laying wreaths at more than 1,200 veteran cemeteries across the U.S. and overseas. The mission of the organization is to, “remember, honor and teach,” and annually, they participate in National Wreath Day, which is the third Saturday of every December.
For this Wreaths Across America supported event, due to time constraints the OOSC was unable to place a wreath on each individual headstone this year. However, the organization did get one 36-inch ceremonial wreath which they placed by the flag pole.
“The wreath before you represents our commitment as a united America to remember the fallen,” said Manion. “This wreath symbolizes our honor to those who have served and are serving in the armed forces of our great nation. We are also honoring, today, the families of those who serve as they too endure sacrifices every day on our behalf.”
This is why the Offutt Officers’ Spouses’ Club feels especially honored to begin this tradition of laying wreaths for our fallen at our base cemetery, she continued.
“This hallowed ground is the resting place of service men and women along with their dependents’” said Manion. “Finally, to our children, we want you to understand that the freedoms you enjoy today have not been free. They have come with a cost that someday you may have to pay yourself. As a nation standing together we can defeat terrorism, hatred and injustice.”
Prior to the event, the OOSC posted information on Facebook about the wreaths and had a tremendous response from many people looking to sponsor a wreath. Thankfully, those will be automatically rolled over to the coming year.
They hope to have a wreath for each headstone next year. The cemetery, originally known as the Fort Crook Post Cemetery, is a small cemetery according to Staff Sgt. Darius Green, 55th Force Support Squadron mortuary affairs.
“There are currently a total of 876 persons interred at the cemetery, with 447 dependents, wives, children and babies buried alongside 429 military members who served,” he said. “The remaining 28 have already been reserved, so there is no more waiting room should someone request burial here.”
Similarly, the Offutt Cemetery also has humble, and sorrowful, beginnings. While historical documents state the cemetery’s establishment as January 1, 1893, a Springfield Monitor article from 1897 has other information.
The article claims the first death to be interred at the Fort Crook Cemetery was the infant son of Samuel Pittson of the Army’s quartermaster division on July 29, 1897. A permit by telegraph was received from Washington D.C. to set apart a portion of the installation for a cemetery in which to bury soldiers and their family members.
Whichever fact holds true, Manion said, the people buried there will never be forgotten.
“The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality,” said Manion. “Our nation stands as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom to the world. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we shall not forget you. We shall remember.”