FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — For many people the holiday season is more than gifts and decorations, it is a time to remember their loved ones who are no longer with them.
In the River Valley, one way they do that is with the help of volunteers who transform the Fort Smith National Cemetery for the holiday season by placing wreaths on the tombstones.
Over 600 volunteers met at the Fort Smith Convention Center to fluff thousands of wreaths.
“Santa’s workshop times 10, that’s what this place will be. Hot chocolate stations, training stations, 16,500 wreaths all prepared for a sacred special usage on Saturday,” Philip Merry said.
The wreaths are for the annual Christmas Honors, an event that began 11 years ago.
Merry says he started the event in hopes to honor selfless soldiers.
“They said 'take my life, here we go America.' I’m going to protect you and somebody who does that we have got to remember them and that’s what today is all about," Merry said.
From school kids to military men, the River Valley community came out to help.
Analyn Moore missed school to volunteer with her family and says it's a day close to their hearts.
“I had a few veterans in my family and two of them have died so this is very important to me to be able to make these and give them to the cemetery,” Moore said.
12-year-old Jamiya Birdsong is volunteering for the second time and says she's excited to do it again.
“We’re representing the people who died for us, and we love to fluff them out. We show respect, not disrespect,” Birdsong said.
Birdsong says she loves looking over and seeing soldiers fluffing wreaths beside her.
“I feel very proud for what they do for us. Very proud of us. Very proud that we’re doing this for them,” Birdsong said.
Joe Costiloe has served in the National Guard for five years and says for him, fluffing a wreath means honoring a fellow soldier.
“These folks and the service that they gave to their country created a freedom for us and that we get to enjoy every day and because we wake up in the place that is the freest country in the planet their legacy lives on every day and the service that they have to create that and I think continuing to honor them every opportunity to have to volunteer and memorialize them is a worth and important effort,” Costiloe said.