Remembering every veteran

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellations across the country for Wreaths Across America events, but Kent Island American Legion Post 278 pushed forward.

The post, located in Stevensville, Md., is the final stop for the convoy transporting wreaths from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery as part of Wreaths Across America day, which was Dec. 19 this year. Pandemic restrictions kept volunteers out of Arlington National Cemetery and changed how Wreaths Across America ceremonies took place. But Nikki Randolph, Post 278’s second vice commander, did not change her plans.

Randolph, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has been working with Wreaths Across America for 10 years. Three years ago, she saw a different need. Since then she has set out on her own to lead an annual trek through Queen Anne's County, Md., to visit small, local cemeteries.

“I started noticing these little tiny cemeteries just in the middle of nowhere, so I would stop,” she said. “I would jump out and I'd go read the headstones. And if there was a veteran and I could ascertain that they were a veteran, I would mark down that location. And the next time I'm doing flags or wreaths, I head out there and I give them one.

“We saw a need that every veteran needs to be remembered, not just those at the national cemeteries,” she added.

Each Christmas, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Randolph lays about 170 wreaths and flags on the graves of the veterans she has been able to identify. And she keeps growing the list.

“I just found six more two weeks ago,” she said.

Randolph says it’s important to remember these smaller sites and that no veterans should be forgotten.

“It's important to carry on the mission of Wreaths Across America to remember, honor and teach,” she said. “Not every veteran gets buried in Arlington or national cemeteries. We owe it to our veterans to at least attempt to remember this and get out there, find them, and document this for people in the future.”

Randolph plans to continue, regardless of what comes her way.

“I plan to continue this until the day I die,” she said.