Military veterans and Boy Scouts carried festive wreaths through Bend’s Greenwood Cemetery Saturday morning and placed the decorations on the graves of local veterans.
Their actions were part of Wreaths Across America, a national program where volunteers place wreaths on graves at more than 1,200 locations across the country, honoring about 1.5 million deceased veterans.
In Central Oregon, more than 230 wreaths were placed in Greenwood Cemetery, about 100 were placed at the Deschutes Memorial Chapel cemetery in Bend, and dozens were set in cemeteries in Redmond and Terrebonne and Sisters.
Dick Tobiason, the Bend Heroes Foundation chairman who helped organize the wreath program Saturday at Greenwood Cemetery, said he estimates about 5,000 veterans are buried in Central Oregon.
Tobiason’s hope is to keep growing the wreath program locally each year and eventually get enough wreaths to cover all of the region’s fallen veterans.
“We are going to do a great thing here,” Tobiason said. “We are part of something bigger than ourselves.”
Before going to the Greenwood Cemetery, Bend veterans and Boy Scout Troop 25 held an opening ceremony at First Presbyterian Church.
Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, the GOP front-runner for governor, gave opening remarks at the ceremony. Buehler described how the most unifying issue he has encountered traveling across the state is the need for better care for veterans.
“I’m fortunate today to be surrounded by so many people who sacrifice so much for our country, for our state, for our community,” Buehler said.
During the opening ceremony, a veteran from each branch of the military set a wreath on a display of military service flags. Army veteran Bob Maxwell, 97, the oldest living Medal of Honor recipient in the United States, placed a wreath on the Army flag.
Marine Corp veteran Joe Gallagher, who placed a wreath on the Marine Corp flag during the opening ceremony, spent the rest of the morning at the Greenwood Cemetery.
Gallagher, of Bend, served in the Marines from 1966-68 during the Vietnam War. He was shot in the leg during a mission in April 1966 and nearly bled to death.
On Saturday, Gallagher grabbed a handful of wreaths and set them on various graves. He saluted each grave and said the veteran’s name out loud, as did all the other veterans at wreath programs across the country.
“It’s an honorable event,” he said.
It was much easier to find the graves this year, compared to last year’s program in Bend, when 2 feet of snow covered the ground.
“Last year we came out here, and there was so much snow you couldn’t even see the headstones,” Gallagher said.
Air Force veteran Robert Huntington, 83, of Prineville, held a wreath in each hand Saturday as he looked for graves to adorn at Greenwood Cemetery.
Huntington served in the Air Force from 1953-57. He was stationed in Japan during the Korean War. He then joined the Air National Guard in 1958 and served until 1961.
Saturday was his first time at a Wreaths Across America program. As a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in Prineville, Huntington plans to help bring the program to Crook County.
“I’m going to get them on it next year,” he said.
In preparation for Saturday’s program, Boy Scouts put wooden stakes by the veterans’ graves in Greenwood Cemetery to help people find them.
Huntington spotted a couple of grave sites with stakes, but no wreaths. He walked over and laid a wreath down at each site.
“It’s in memory of all the fallen soldiers,” Huntington said. “It’s very touching.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, email@example.com