Goal is to place a wreath on every veteran’s grave across the country

Published in the December 9 – 22, 2015 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Mark Turner

Mark Turner

South Valley residents have a special place in their hearts for the men and women who served America through time spent in the Armed Forces. And during the holiday season, many of them seek to honor those veterans who have died either in military conflict or from other causes by placing a specially decorated wreath on their graves.

Morgan Hill resident Mark Turner, who serves as the executive director of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, last year brought South Valley residents into the Wreaths Across America program. For a donation of $15 for each wreath, citizens can pay for (and place if they wish) a wreath to remember loved ones or others who served and now rest in piece at Gilroy’s Gavilan Hills Memorial Park or St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery or Morgan Hill’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Morgan Hill Life asked Turner about the unique opportunity to honor deceased military veterans during the holidays.

What is the Wreaths Across America project and how did it get started?

Wreaths Across America is a national organization whose goal is to place a wreath on every veteran’s grave across the country at Christmas time. It’s an opportunity to remember the sacrifice so many made, to honor those who served and to teach younger generations the cost of freedom.

In 1992, the Worcester Wreath Company in Maine found themselves with a surplus of wreaths at the end of the holiday season. Remembering back to a visit he made to Arlington National Cemetery as a boy, Morrill Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. This effort went on quietly for years. In 2005 pictures of Arlington’s headstones adorned with wreaths began circulating the Internet. Before long, organizations across the country wanted to participate.

Why were you personally interested to get involved in bringing wreaths to military veterans’ graves at the Gilroy and Morgan Hill cemeteries?

My father was a Marine and served for several years. His time in the Marine Corps helped shape his view, his values and his pride in the nation. He instilled those values in my brothers and me.  He taught us to have a deep abiding respect for our veterans and active military personnel, a love of country and reverence for the flag which so many people have fought and died for. When I learned about Wreaths Across America, I jumped at the chance to bring this event to South County where nearly 1,200 veterans are buried. Tere Johnson, a good friend, also dedicated his time and effort to ensure the success of this event. Tere coordinated the effort at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Morgan Hill. What an opportunity to express gratitude and to honor the men and women and their families for their service and sacrifice.

What might placing a wreath on a grave mean personally for the family members of vets?

Last year there were nearly 400 volunteers between Gilroy and Morgan Hill who helped place wreaths. These volunteers consisted of family members of those buried in one of the three cemeteries, community members at large, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, high school students, moms, dads and young children, all interested in honoring the memory of those who served. Placing the wreaths was moving and emotional for many. Family members took time at their loved one’s grave as they placed a wreath, thinking about and being thankful for the memories they have. Parents of children helped their kids understand the meaning of sacrifice. One Vietnam veteran placed a wreath at the grave of his fallen buddy who gave his life saving the lives of others. For many who participated, it was a chance to say “thank you” to those who served.

Where and when will the wreaths be placed and why might you encourage local people to participate in this ceremony?

The Gilroy and Morgan Hill sites will have a military color guard, some comments by dignitaries, a patriotic song and the placing of wreaths. Taps will be played to mark the end of the ceremony.

How can individuals, local companies, and nonprofit organizations help in this project?

The biggest challenge is ensuring we have 1,200 wreaths sponsored. Anyone interested in helping sponsor can donate online by going to the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce website at www.gilroy.org and look for the Wreaths Across America icon. Each wreath is only $15.

For those not wanting to donate online, they can send a check to the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce. The check should be made out to Wreaths Across America. They can also contact me at (408) 842-6437 for more information or they can call Tere Johnson, the Morgan Hill coordinator, at (408) 406-3001.


What: Wreath Laying
When: 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec 12
Where: Gavilan Hills and St. Mary’s in Gilroy, and Mt. Hope in Morgan Hill
Donate: Wreaths are $15. Donate online at www.gilroy.org