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Public Lays Wreaths at Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery

By Kevin M. Hymel, Historian on 1/4/2024

Arlington National Cemetery was one of several cemeteries in the metropolitan area to welcome volunteers to lay wreaths at headstones this holiday season. On Dec. 16, 2023, more than 400 people visited the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Northwest Washington, D.C., to participate in Wreaths Across America Day.

Located just north of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery is one of the country’s oldest national cemeteries. The cemetery’s rolling hills mark the final resting place for more than 14,000 veterans.

The event started at noon with the Girl Scouts and Trial Life USA honor guard presenting the colors, followed by a bugler sounding Taps. U.S. Navy Capt. Matthew Frey, the Wreaths Across America location coordinator, welcomed the crowd, reminding them of the day’s themes: Remembering the fallen, honoring them and teaching the next generation.

People spread out into the cemetery to lay wreaths. Most were local; many were in groups, while others brought their families. A few people read prayers at the graves after placing their wreaths.

Jennifer Coleman, a Girl Scout troop leader, helped bring nine girls to the cemetery to show appreciation for the fallen. “I especially wanted to do this at Christmas time,” she said, “when many of them might not have relatives to do this.” Another troop leader, Lisa Collins, also brought her 12-year-old son Jacob and 10-year-old daughter Alexis. “I wanted them to see how beautiful this is and how nice it is to remember those laid to rest here,” she explained. 

Three veterans from the American Legion Post No. 46 also showed up to lay wreaths. “There’s a lot of memories coming back,” said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Karry Kamon, who stood between an Army and a Marine Legionnaire. “I feel a lot of respect and emotions to be able to be here and do this and remember these soldiers and sailors.”

Two women with the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. came to support the cemetery. “We’re paying homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, including their families,” said Melinda Deloatch-Speight, who has laid wreaths here for years. Sorority sister Sarah Johnson, a former U.S. Navy chief petty officer, looks forward to the event every year. “It’s great to give back to the community,” she noted, “and it’s great to be out here to lay wreaths for the fallen.”

Two young brothers, Matthew and Michael Bond, came with their aunt. “Laying a wreath gives respect to people who passed away during wartime,” said Matthew.

Todd Keller, a supporter of the adjacent Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, attended with his wife and their daughter Tess. “We thought it would be a great idea to show about giving back to our armed forces,” he said. Young Tess gazed at the rows of headstones with wreaths in front of them. “This means giving back to the soldiers who died,” she reflected. “It says people still care about them even though they’re gone.”