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Veterans honored at wreath-laying ceremony

by Nick Rotunno
| December 12, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - Quietly and with great reverence, Wayne Syth walked toward the Armed Forces monument at Coeur d'Alene Memorial Gardens, hung a green holiday wreath, stepped back and gave a formal salute.

Made of pine boughs and decorated with red ribbon, the wreath held special meaning on Saturday morning - it honored American prisoners of war, and the thousands of servicemen and women who are still missing in action, lost on battlefields around the world. Other wreaths, also hanging proudly from the monument, represented every branch of the United States military: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine.

Organized by the Civil Air Patrol Coeur d'Alene Composite Squadron, the ceremonial wreath-hanging was part of the annual Wreaths Across America Day, a nationwide remembrance of American veterans who have passed away.

"Excellent ceremony," said Syth, a Navy veteran from Hayden. "First year that we've had the opportunity to lay the wreaths. It is definitely a good way to honor veterans."

After a few words from 1st Lt. Tony Woltz, the officer in charge of the Civil Air Patrol cadets, community members walked around the cemetery and laid wreaths on the graves of veterans, which were marked by flags. Over 300 were placed on the snowy ground.

"I think it went pretty well. In all I think it turned out very good," said 17-year-old Cadet Major Matthew Conner of Athol. "We started planning this about three months ago. It's something other civil air patrols and wings have done around the nation."

As they prepared for the ceremony, the cadets ventured into the community and asked for donations. Each wreath cost $15; they were made by the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, and shipped to North Idaho.

At noon EST on Saturday, wreath-laying ceremonies took place at over 500 locations throughout the United States, a press release said. Wreaths Across America Day is an extension of the wreath-laying tradition that began at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia 19 years ago.

"This is the first year that we're doing Wreaths Across America in Coeur d'Alene," explained 1st Lt. Paul Vilandre of Hayden. "This is the first time we've been allowed to do it at local cemeteries."

Following the ceremony at Memorial Gardens, the cadets, veterans and other participants moved on to Forest Cemetery, where, beneath stately ponderosa pines, they placed additional wreaths on veterans' gravestones.

"I would say (it was) definitely a success," Conner said. "We were able to honor the veterans, and we're able to do it again next year."

Marcia Benson of Hayden attended Saturday's ceremony.

"It was beautiful, but there weren't enough people here," she said, referring to the handful of spectators who came to the cemetery. "More people should show up for something like this, to honor the veterans."

Her grandson, Maxwell Korab, is a Civil Air Patrol cadet. He laid a wreath on the grave of his grandfather, Air Force veteran Earl Cundy. For Benson it was a powerful moment.

"(The ceremony) for me is very emotional," she said. "I lost a brother back in Vietnam, and I have a nephew who's now in Afghanistan. So all of this is very moving, very emotional."

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