Hundreds of volunteers joined American Legion Post 5 in Tampa, Fla., to ensure that the 750 veterans laid to rest in its cemetery would be remembered on Wreaths Across America Day on Dec. 16.
“We’re honoring deceased veterans for this holiday period,” said Bill Hamblin, Post 5 commander and president of the privately owned cemetery. “You die twice: The first time it’s a physical death. The second time is when you are forgotten. We don’t want to forget these people.”
This marked the 10th year that Post 5 has participated in the national Wreaths Across America Day. The post administers the cemetery, where the graves are placed in neat rows like at Arlington National Cemetery. Those laid to rest in the Legion cemetery represent every war conflict dating back to the Spanish-American War.
“Patriotism is slowing down, it’s not like it was after 9/11,” Hamblin said. “It is important to remember these veterans from the different wars because history repeats itself. We need to know what’s going on. We don’t want to make the same mistakes twice. That is what history is all about — it’s a lesson.”
During the 20-minute ceremony, Rosemary Hamblin reminded those in attendance about the importance of the wreath-laying. “We are not here to decorate graves,” said Hamblin, Bill’s wife, Unit 5 president and organizer of the event. “We are here to remember not their deaths but their lives.”
It’s important for the Hamblins and others to teach future generations about such sacrifices.
“Wreaths Across America has a motto: Remember, honor, teach,” she said. “And that’s pretty much what it is. It’s remembering out here. It’s honoring and it’s teaching our children. There are a lot of Scouts and children out here. It’s to let them know what goes on.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, those in attendance were asked to grab a wreath, find a gravesite and say the veteran’s name. American Legion Family members were joined by hundreds of others including Boy Scouts, Jefferson High School ROTC students and volunteers from the Tampa Rays.
Will Rickles, senior patrol leader of Boy Scout Troop 53 in Tampa, has participated in the ceremony for several years.
“This event is important for the Boys Scouts and me personally because most every person knows a fallen veteran, or a veteran,” said Rickles, who is 16. “This type of event reminds us of who fights for our freedom. It’s nice for all of us to have you realize why we are here. It’s a great time to come out and remember these people.”
For Rickles, it’s a humbling experience.
“There is no feeling like going to a headstone, placing a wreath there and pronouncing the name,” he said. “And just thinking of what this man or woman did. At 16 years old, you can’t imagine what hardships these people went through. It’s a true unique experience.”
Rosemary Hamblin encouraged the wreath-layers to not only say the veteran’s name but to go home and use Google to continue the learning — and remembering — process.
Maria Delgado brought her toddler-aged grandson, Isaiah Thomas.
“I wanted to give a little back to our soldiers that did so much for us and I wanted to show my appreciation to them today,” said Delgado, who participated in the event for the first time. “I want him to start understanding early what the military does for us and want him to not only appreciate but respect that.”
They placed a wreath at the gravesite of Sidney Evans, a World War I veteran from Florida.
“I wanted to feel a closeness hoping that somewhere up there he heard me say his name and he understands that I appreciate and respect what he and others have done for us and this country — and that they are not forgotten,” Delgado said.