WEIRTON - "Impressive" and "important" are two words George Livingston uses with conviction when he talks about the Wreaths Across America program he got involved in several years ago.
A national nonprofit organization, Wreaths Across America was founded in 2007 to continue and expand upon the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992.
Its mission is to "remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom" - a mission demonstrated in part by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington as well as at veterans' cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond.
Weirton resident George Livingston is a member of the George Washington Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution that once again is participating in the Wreaths Across America campaign and is seeking the help of area residents in sponsoring wreaths for $15 by the Nov. 20 order deadline but also to participate in the actual ceremony set for noon on Dec. 14. Livingston has participated in the ceremony at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Bridgeville, Pa., in Washington County for several years, including last year.
A Weirton resident, Livingston has not only been a local participant at the closest-to-home national cemetery - the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies near Bridgeville, Pa., in Washington County - but also is a recruiter of others to experience the event and to help provide the wreaths as well.
"It's impressive alright," Livingston said of the ceremony at the 292-acre national cemetery located along Interstate 79 in northern Washington County and where the first veteran burials took place in August 2005.
Livingston is a member of the George Washington Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution that once again is participating in the Wreaths Across America campaign and "seeks to find patriotic Americans who are willing to sponsor wreaths."
Wreath sponsoring can be individually or collectively through an organization or business. The wreaths are $15 each, but this year, three wreaths will be placed for every two that are sponsored, according to Livingston, who also is a founding member of the Ebenezer Zane Chapter, Ohio Society, Sons of the American Revolution.
The deadline to order wreaths is Nov. 20, Livingston explained. Checks can be made payable to Wreaths Across America TM and mailed to Wreaths Across America, 13 Elm Lane, Wheeling, WV 26003-4905.
Questions can be directed to Gary Timmons, George Washington Chapter, Wreaths Across America chairman for the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies, at (304) 242-8759.
The actual wreath-laying ceremony this year will be held at noon on Dec. 14.
Livingston said it was Timmons who got him involved in attending and participating in the ceremonies for the first time in 2007.
"He had to read a proclamation from the Sons of the American Revolution, and I was impressed with the people placing the wreaths and the cemetery," Livingston said.
"You want to see something impressive go to a national cemetery," Livingston said, noting last year there were more than a thousand people at the December ceremony. There were "a couple hundred" the first year Livingston went.
Growth in participation has been a constant, according to Livingston, who said the estimated 1,200 at the 2012 event constituted a cross section of area residents.
"These are families, they bus schoolchildren in, they're military groups, patriotic organizations or people who just want to go," he said.
The ceremony is brief, but meaningful, Livingston said.
"The cemetery director says a few words, and they post the colors, say the Pledge of Allegiance and then the wreaths are packed in boxes all around the cemetery," he said.
With a thousand some people placing wreaths on the veterans' graves, it takes as little as 20 minutes, according to Livingston.
The atmosphere as that occurs, Livingston added, "is very quiet, very respectful."
The ceremony occurs regardless of the weather.
"One year the snow was a foot deep, and that's pretty with all the green wreaths in the snow," he said. There have been warmer occasions, too, with not a flake of snow in sight.
Livingston said he feels a sense of patriotic responsibility to be a part of Wreaths Across America's goal to generate sponsors for wreaths that will be placed on the veterans' graves in each national cemetery across the country, including the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.
The origin of the campaign dates back 22 years when Merrill Worcester, the owner of a nursery located in Harrington, Maine, had an over abundance of Christmas wreaths and nothing to do with them. Remembering a trip he had taken as a paperboy to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., he got the idea to donate his excess wreaths to the cemetery to be placed on veterans' graves as a gesture of remembrance and honor for those men and women who served their country.
Over the years, additional cemeteries were included and now more than 350 national cemeteries across the United States and overseas participate in this annual event, according to Livingston.
Last year there were 5,136 wreaths placed at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies which serves the Tri-State Area and is located not far from exit 48 on Interstate 79.
The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies was established in 2005 on approximately 300 acres near the Washington and Allegheny county line. The George Washington chapter started its partnership with the NCA in 2008 when it raised the funds to buy and donate and electric four-person cart to transport families around the cemetery. The chapter also dedicated a "memorial boulder" along a memorial walk "in memory of all the Revolutionary War soldiers whose burial site is known only to God."
(Kiaski can be contacted at heraldstaronline.com.)