Christmas Honors Wreaths Packed Up Until Next Holiday Season

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Hundreds of volunteers showed up Saturday to help take down nearly 14,000 wreaths laid on the graves of veterans at the Fort Smith National Cemetery.

Among the volunteers were 60 cadets from the Northside High School Junior ROTC battalion.

"It means a lot to us because lots of us have family members buried out here," said student Adrian Whitaker.

Lieutenant Colonel Earl Massey said when he volunteered his students to help with the Christmas Honors organization, he asked for his group to have priority over tending to the graves of the unknown soldiers.

"People who live in the local community come out here and pay respect to their family, but these gentlemen, they have no family," Lt. Col. Massey said.

Once the wreaths were all collected at the cemetery, they were taken to the Fort Smith Convention Center to be boxed up and preserved until next holiday season.

Kristin Day travels from Sallisaw each year to volunteer for the Christmas Honors organization. As the wife of a Vietnam veteran, she says it's the least she can do.

"Those guys gave us the peace and the liberty that we have, and we owe it to them,” Day said.

For some, volunteering to clean up the wreaths was a way to give back to their community. For others, their reasons were more personal.

“My father was in the military and he’s actually buried in the cemetery here," said William Jenner, a student at Southside High School. "He was a captain in the military and passed away.”

Fort Smith City Director and spokesperson for Christmas Honors Philip Merry said honoring each individual veteran's grave with a wreath was unique to Fort Smith.

“No other town does this," Merry said. "Parts of Arlington do this, but they don’t do the whole cemetery. We do in Fort Smith. It’s all or none, and we’ll never forget them. Ever.”