Family members and guests made Saturday a special day of remembrance at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley by laying more than 5,000 wreaths on gravesites and along the columbarium containing the remains of servicemen and women who served in the armed forces.
Even more special for the national “Wreaths Across America” program, which honors veterans in all 50 states and at overseas national cemeteries, was having more than enough holiday wreaths for the veterans at the Fernley cemetery.
“It’s awesome. I am completely blown away,” said Brett Palmer, president of the Northern Nevada Veterans Coalition in describing how far the program has progressed in six years at the NNVMC. “We received donations from family members, the active duty community … all over the place. Some people have family here and others from Connecticut to Arizona donated. People have a soft spot on their hearts for vets.”
Although the national program to lay wreaths at veterans’ gravesites started in 1992, the NNVMC program began in 2007 with 28 wreaths and a crowd that numbered about 50. Now, according to Palmer, 5,821 wreaths were ordered with about 100 going to Fallon to The Gardens Cemetery’s veterans’ section and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Indian Cemetery at Stillwater.
“We have wreaths on every memorial out here (at the NNVMC),” said Palmer, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1969-1971 and then spent a career in law enforcement, including 19 years with the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office in Fernley.
Palmer said members of the coalition estimated more than 1,000 people attended the one-hour remembrance, which began at 9 a.m. to coincide with the laying of wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery at noon, Eastern Time.
Narrator Joe Gale, also from the veterans’ coalition, told the assembled audience freedom comes with a price.
“We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free, and we shall not forget you. We shall remember,” said Gale, who’s pastor of Fernley’s Calvary Chapel and a Navy veteran.
In his prepared remarks, Gale asked the audience members when they see a veteran or active duty member of the armed services, they should thank them for their service.
“We owe them our way of life, and a moment of your time is well spent,” he added.
Gale then recognized the veterans and active duty personnel who answered the call to serve.
Before the majority of wreaths were placed, however, the family of Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Andrew Collins, of Truckee, who died in a Navy helicopter crash off the Virginia coast earlier this year in January, laid eight wreaths.
Taps were then played.
Afterward, David Sousa of Sparks, the current state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a soldier in the Nevada Army National Guard who served in Afghanistan, said it’s important to pay respects to veterans whether they served during peacetime or wartime or within the borders of the United States or overseas.
Sousa then grew silent for a moment.
“Over there,” he said with his eyes fixed to the cemetery’s western fringe, “is a buddy of mine from the California Army National Guard who is buried here. I have a friend from the Nevada Guard who is also here. We have veterans from four different campaigns.”
Sousa said he was proud to see so many people attending the wreath ceremony.
Kelly Beadle of Fallon laid a wreath at her mother’s grave. Although her mother did not serve, she was married to a veteran who was at Hickam Air Base when Japanese pilots bombed Hawaii 73 years ago.
“It’s very important and not just for my mom,” she said when laying a wreath on her mother’s headstone. “I had a son who did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and a son in law who is currently serving.”
Beadle said her husband enlisted six months before the end of the Vietnam War, but he was assigned to Alaska as an air traffic controller.
Petty Officer Josh Bowen, an aviation ordnanceman at Naval Air Station Fallon, laid two wreaths, including one with the family of David Anderson, a Navy Vietnam veteran who died in 2012.
Bowen and about 15 other sailors from aviation ordnance and the medical clinic also laid wreaths.
“It’s nice to help out for the people in the past who served,” said Bowen, who has been in the Navy for more than 15 years. “I’m out here to give my support.”