WALLA WALLA - A ceremony that started 20 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery made its debut at Mountain View Cemetery on Saturday as Christmas wreaths were laid on the headstones of 137 veterans buried there.
The event, known as Wreaths Across America, started in 1992, when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine, had a surplus.
Eventually, Worcester managed to gain the support needed to place the wreaths in an older section of the National Cemetery for Christmas.
The company continued the tradition for more than a decade without much national acclaim.
Then in 2005, a photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi went viral, inspiring other organizations to get involved.
The popularity of the event grew, and eventually Congress declared the second Saturday of December as Wreaths Across America Day. The Civil Air Patrol was enlisted to aid in the coordinating of the national ceremonies.
Local Civil Air Patrol Deputy Commander Ted Hanson said his group tried to get the ceremony in Walla Walla last year, but couldn't get city permission in time.
This year they managed, as was shown by the 30 civilians in attendance, along with half as many active or retired military personnel and a dozen cadets, all of whom suffered the morning frost to honor veterans with wreaths.
"We would love to carpet this thing, every military grave, but that's 2,500," Lt. Col. William Howard said.
Instead, the group started with the World War I veterans section; they will pick up where they left off next year.
The wreaths, made of real conifer branches held together with a loop and adorned with a red bow, cost $15 each.
Eagle Meadows raised close to $600 for the event and Hot Mama's Espresso close to $500, Hanson said.
"I just think people need to be more appreciative about our military and all the sacrifices they did for our families," Hot Mama's Espresso owner Jenny Rasley said.
Organizations that raise money have the option of having all their funds go directly to buying wreaths for $10 per wreath, or they can chose to have $5 of every $15 go back to their local chapter of the Civil Air Patrol.
Hanson said this year's event will earn them $685, money that will be used to fund cadet programs, which serve youths such as Zachary Cobb, 14.
"It made me think about the people who served in our armed forces, and how thankful I am," Cobb said, shortly after taking part in the pre-ceremony and then helping to place the wreaths.
When asked how it made him feel to place the wreath on a Wold War I vet, he said, "I wish I could have met them."
Last year, Wreaths Across America placed more than 219,000 wreaths on veterans' headstones at about 545 locations with the help of some 160,000 volunteers.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.