By MAGGIE GEBHARDT
WaKEENEY -- Families remembered their fallen loved ones Saturday during Wreaths Across America at Kansas Veterans Cemetery in WaKeeney.
Wreaths Across America is a national event that included more than 800 participating locations this year. Each location conducted a ceremony, with the main event being the laying of wreaths upon the graves of veterans.
"2014 marks the 23rd anniversary of Worcester Wreath Co. donating wreaths from Maine to adorn the headstones of our nation's veterans at Arlington National Cemetery," said Heidi Goff, Kansas Veterans Cemetery manager.
Worcester also donates seven wreaths to participating locations throughout the country, Goff said.
"Every year, the event seems to grow more and more," she said.
"It's done on the same day across the entire nation."
The ceremony in WaKeeney was the eighth annual event for the Kansas Veterans Cemetery location.
"It's a great way to show respect to those that have served in the military," said Gerald Marvin, junior vice commander for Kansas VFW. "There are many cemeteries participating in the state of Kansas."
Beginning at 11 a.m. with the procession of flags by the American Legion Riders, members rode in on their motorcycles, each carrying an American flag as they approached the crowd that was anticipating the arrival.
The invocation was led by the Rev. Delbert Stanton, which was followed by a moment of silence in remembrance of loved ones lost.
With hands placed over hearts, the crowd stood to join together in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Hays VFW Post No. 9076 then conducted the Presentation of Colors.
Shortly after, Lt. Col. Errol Wuertz of the Kansas Wing Civil Air Patrol began with the opening remarks. Wuertz reflected on the many sacrifices made by both veterans and their families.
The laying of the wreaths followed, which was the main portion of the ceremony. Using the seven wreaths donated by Worcester, one-by-one, veterans came forward to hang and salute their individual wreath in front of the cemetery. Sgt. Brandon Petry hung the Army wreath, Sgt. Robert Munsch hung the Marine Corp wreath, Seaman Warner Ertl hung the Navy wreath, Master Sgt. Denise Thrailkill hung the Air Force wreath, RM2 Jimm Oss hung the Coast Guard wreath, FC2 Wesley R. Alsdurf hung the Merchant Marines wreath and Sgt. Leroy Herrman hung the POW and MIA wreath.
When the last of the seven wreaths was saluted, Goff thanked the families who came to participate and welcomed them to an abundance of additional wreaths provided at the event. The wreaths were made available because of community donations.
"The generosity in northwest Kansas is just unbelievable," Goff said. "We have always had more than enough donations to make sure that every veteran and their spouse receives a wreath."
Mary Powell, wife of Navy veteran Steven Powell who died this year, purchased three wreaths in contribution of the event.
"It means a lot," she said. "We are very proud of this cemetery."
Powell attended the ceremony alongside her two daughters, Christy and Robyn.
"It's a great day to honor our dad," Robyn said. "He was proud of his military service, and we're very proud of him."
Several families found their loved ones' graves and situated a wreath upon it in memory and thanks. For family members who could not attend, wreaths were laid and saluted on the graves of veterans and their spouses by American Legion Riders and other volunteers.
"It's really a special way that these veterans can honor other veterans, their comrades," Goff said.