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Veterans cemetery in Medical Lake embraces wreaths tribute

Jane Montaney’s eyes brimmed with tears and her voice quavered as she described how it felt to place a wreath on a veteran’s grave at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” an emotional Montaney said. “You get a tingling sensation throughout your body. I don’t care how cold it is, you feel warm when you’re doing it … you feel a sense of connection.”

She was participating in Wreaths Across America, a program in which thousands of wreaths are donated to veterans cemeteries and memorial sites across the nation each year.

Washington State Veterans Cemetery, which opened June 7 and is located on 150 acres in Medical Lake, participated in the program for the first time.

Montaney is the wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt and grandmother of veterans, and president of the American Legion Auxiliary for Washington. Her grandson, a Marine, is serving in Afghanistan.

She said her tears were both happy and sad.

“I’m happy that we can honor them but I’m sad that we’ve lost so many,” she said.

The program was started by the Worcester Wreath Co. 18 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery.

According to the website, Morrill Worcester, the company’s founder, was 12 years old when he first visited Arlington, and it made a lasting impression.

Later it dawned on him that his success as a businessman would not have been possible without the sacrifices of American soldiers.

With the success of his company, he realized he had a chance to fulfill a boyhood dream and began donating leftover wreaths to Arlington in 1992.

Other national cemeteries heard about the project and wanted to join in. The program has grown to include state and national cemeteries across America, to which thousands of wreaths are donated each year.

The wreaths, worth $15 each, are sponsored by individuals and veterans groups.

On Sunday, a fleet of trucks left Maine, where the company is based, to deliver the wreaths to more than 450 locations. The trucking companies also donate their services, said Beth Ann Daigre, founder of Ladies and Gentlemen of the Washington State Veterans Cemetery.

Washington State Veterans Cemetery, in which 379 veterans are buried, received more than 160 wreaths.

The program is a way to show gratitude to soldiers who have served and those who still are serving, said cemetery Director Richard Cesler, who served in Vietnam as a member of the Air Force.

“The freedoms we enjoy do not come without a price,” Cesler said to a reverent crowd of veterans and their families. “Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear.”

Seven wreaths were presented at the beginning of the ceremony. The first wreath was placed in honor of the 93,000 service members whose last known status was prisoner of war or missing in action. The next five represented each branch of the military, honoring those who served or are currently serving. The final wreath was presented in honor of the Merchant Marine.

The ceremony also included posting of the colors, a special prayer for troops, a rifle salute and the playing of taps.

Cesler said that because of soldiers’ sacrifices, America stands as a shining beacon of liberty to the world.

“We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we will not forget you,” he said. “We shall remember.”