Photo by Jolene Guzman
From left: Mike Starks, Sgt. Aaron Cressey, Neil Martinez and Sgt. Ruben Trejo prepare to post wreaths at Dallas Cemetery on Saturday morning.
As of Tuesday, December 18, 2018
DALLAS — Carolyn Stout stood at the far end of Dallas Cemetery and waved her hands in the air, signaling that she needed more wreaths to place on veterans’ graves on Saturday during the cemetery’s first National Wreaths Across America Day event.
The event, part of a national movement, had volunteers fan out at the cemetery carrying wreaths for every veteran buried there.
Saturday’s celebration began with the Dallas Old Guard Riders, which approached Mike Starks, the sexton, or caretaker of the cemetery. Also a veteran, Starks immediately said yes and signed up Dallas Cemetery with the organization Wreaths Across America.
That began the process of gathering wreaths. First, 300 were donated. Then the United Way chipped in for another 1,500.
Ultimately, more than 3,000 wreaths were donated to place in Dallas Cemetery, which is located off Kings Valley Highway in Dallas, and other smaller cemeteries in the area, said Neil “Jumper” Martinez, the president of the Dallas Old Guard Riders.
Stout was one of dozens of volunteers who turned out on Saturday morning to help.
“I have family buried up here. Family that served, family that died, a husband who served,” she said. “Anything for a veteran. It’s not a sacrifice. So many people say ‘How can you sacrifice your time? You get nothing in return.’ … They don’t understand the necessity of honoring the heritage that we’ve got. These men and women, no matter how old the grave or how new, it’s a memory and a love for someone who gave their life.”
Starks, who helped organize the delivery of the wreaths and Saturday’s event, said the wreaths honor the person who served, and his or her family.
Looking around at the number of graves with a wreath, he said: “Those families make up the Dallas community.”
Starks said he’s pleased to see how many people volunteered on Saturday and hopes the December event will grow in a similar way that the annual Avenue of Flags Dallas Cemetery holds for Memorial Day.
“It’s for our community,” he said.
Roy Witherspoon, the state director of the Brothers of the Third Wheel, a trike rider organization, said he considers it his duty to show up to events such at National Wreath Day. He served from 1973-1975.
“Not too many people, especially in these private cemeteries like this, come in and honor the veterans like they would in a memorial setting,” he said. “We’ve got all kinds of volunteers out here. That’s great.”
The event concluded with two members of the Honor Guard, Sgt. Ruben Trujo and Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Cressy, placing seven wreaths at the entrance of the cemetery to commemorate MIAs and POWs, and each branch of the military.
Stout said that what people did on Saturday helped honor the memory of veterans. She wants her children and grandchildren to remember that.
“A lot of these men were very young boys. They never had a chance to buy and get a fancy car back then. Whatever people do nowadays that’s important to them,” she said. “This is important. This is what my grandkids are learning. This is what they are going to grow up learning, that you shall respect. Always.”