Volunteers with the nationwide organization have decorated veterans’ graves with wreaths since 1992, typically drawing large crowds for ceremonies around the holidays. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many of this year’s ceremonies were canceled, altered, or — as was the case in Springfield — held virtually.
Kyle Tuller, location coordinator for the Springfield area, said this year was his first at the helm of the event.
“I contacted the cemetery in Springfield, and the director told me no one was leading the program there, so I reached out to the corporate offices and quickly got appointed to help the efforts in the area. Due to COVID, they weren’t even going to have a ceremony this year,” Tuller told The Missouri Times. “My father was a Marine and is buried there, so it was a near and dear thing to my heart to remember and honor these veterans for their service to our country.”
Tuller said the group decorated more than 2,000 cemeteries across the country this year. In the past, volunteers held ceremonies presenting wreaths for each branch of the military and playing their official songs with hundreds in attendance, according to Tuller.
Tuller said volunteers were adapting to health restrictions and recommendations from the state to keep the tradition going.
“The Missouri Veterans Commission has said we can’t do that this year, so there’s no public event going on,” he said. “Myself and another volunteer held a private ceremony over Facebook live with the ceremonial wreaths. It’s two of us instead of a couple of hundred people, but we’re still doing what we can to honor veterans.”
Tuller led the ceremony on Dec. 19, presenting wreaths and playing patriotic music at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Springfield.
“Our nation shines as a beacon of liberty and freedom to the world,” Tuller said before his virtual audience. “We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free — we shall not forget you. We shall remember.”
Tuller said he was proud to be a part of the organization and its yearly mission, no matter what the ceremony looked like this year.
“It’s just a small thing we can do to honor our veterans,” he said. “Putting wreaths on their graves to recognize their service to our country — it’s something great we can do to honor their sacrifice.”
Gov. Mike Parson promoted the organization earlier this month when volunteers arrived with a wreath for the governor’s reception room in the state Capitol.
Volunteers with @WreathsAcross America just arrived with Missouri’s wreath.
This patriotic organization works to lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, at locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad. pic.twitter.com/MCy2alJnbY
— Governor Mike Parson (@GovParsonMO) December 16, 2020
Volunteers from Wreaths Across America have honored veterans during the holidays since 1992 when the organization first placed wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery. The project gained national attention in 2005 and has since been a well-known holiday tradition.