Wreaths Across America honor those who served
December 18, 2016
FERNLEY — An elderly woman had just placed a wreath at her husband's gravesite Saturday during the nationwide Wreaths Across America, an event to honor the men and women who served in the military.
Her son, Chris Sullivan, stood nearby on a clear, yet chilly morning as she reflected on both her husband and the ceremony conducted at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Fernley.
"They are all family to me," said Gretchen Perkins, who also gazed across the cemetery. "It was a wonderful ceremony."
Family members, volunteers and guests of other service men and women made Saturday a special day of remembrance. Visitors placed several thousand wreaths on every gravesite and along the columbarium containing the remains of those who served in the armed forces.
Brett Palmer of the Northern Nevada Veterans Coalition said extra wreaths also were taken to nearby cemeteries to place on veterans' graves.
The national "Wreaths Across America" program, which began in 1992, honors veterans in all 50 states and at overseas national cemeteries. Palmer said the NNVC placed 150 more wreaths than last year.
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Sullivan said his mother and Perkins moved to this area from West Virginia to be closer to family. He said the Army veteran loved the Fernley cemetery.
"It's a wonderful place, restful, respectful," Gretchen Perkins said.
Her husband, Eugene Perkins, died Sept. 30, but her thoughts primarily reflected on his service during World War II. As an 18-year-old private first class in the U.S. Army, Eugene Perkins fought at the Battle of the Bulge that occurred 72 years ago this month in the Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France and Luxembourg. The offensive against the Germans lasted more than two months during one of the coldest winters in European history.
Gretchen Perkins and her son remember several stories he told them of his experiences fighting the enemy.
"He was on reconnaissance looking for the enemy," she recalled from one of his yarns. "They encountered a German soldier who dropped his weapon and ran."
Sullivan remembered another story when the young Army private and fellow soldiers were nearing the end of their patrol when they captured three German soldiers and brought them back to camp. One of the American soldiers hailed from North Dakota and could speak German. The first two Germans wouldn't reveal troop location, said Sullivan, so when each prisoner was escorted out the back of the building, a shot rang out for each prisoner then followed by silence.
"The third guy quickly told his captors where his comrades were," Sullivan said.
Little did the captives know was that the sentry had orders to shoot his weapon toward the ground after each prisoner left the building, giving the impression each prisoner had been shot.
Both Sullivan and his mother smiled after telling the story.
The annual event at the NNVMC is attracting more volunteers every year. Linda Dickinson, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 389, said members from both the Reno and Carson City chapters attended the ceremony. For Dickinson, who served as flight nurse in the U.S. Air Force, the Fernley ceremony becomes personal.
"Several of our members are buried here," she said. "It's an emotional service."
Dickinson added the Wreaths Across America program is an event all veterans are proud to be a part. In addition to the Vietnam vets, about 20 sailors from Naval Air Station Fallon and the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center volunteered to escort family members to the graves or columbarium. Sea Cadet and Civil Air Patrol members, many of them teenagers, also placed wreaths or accompanied family members.
Spokesman Tom Draughon of the Northern Nevada Veterans Coalition served as master of ceremonies. He asked the audience to take a moment to thank veterans for preserving our way of life before the placing of wreaths to honor the branches of the military.
Afterward, when Draughon was helping lay a wreath, he said the experience gives him a warm feeling because he considers those interred at Fernley as his brothers and sisters. Every year, he said the NNVC receives more donations, many of them coming from as far away as the East Coast.
"We have a lot of people buried out here from other places. They grew up elsewhere but moved here," he pointed out. "They're all not from Nevada."
Draughon then paused for a moment thinking about those who are interred and of the millions of veterans who are also still alive.
"Everybody should thank a vet every day of the year," said the Vietnam War veteran.