The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

May 3, 2014

Cover the cemetery

Volunteer seeks donations for veterans' wreaths

BY MARY WICOFF mwicoff@dancomnews.com
The Commercial-News

---- — With winter barely a memory away, people might not want to think about Christmas.

Tammy Williams, however, is encouraging people to start thinking now about a way to honor veterans over the holiday season — by placing wreaths on graves as part of Wreaths Across America.

It’s not too early to make a donation to cover the cost of a wreath or to volunteer to help Williams contact businesses and work out the details.

“Instead of worrying about presents at Christmas time, try to give something to the veterans,” she said.

This year, the Wreaths Across America ceremony will be at 11 a.m. Dec. 13 at the Danville National Cemetery. Deadline to make donations is Dec. 1; anything donated after that will go to the 2015 placement.

“We want to teach our children about honoring and respecting current veterans and veterans of the past,” said Williams, who’s the location coordinator for the national Wreaths Across America. “This is one thing you do to show your kids, and to do something for someone else.”

About 300 wreaths were donated last year, Williams said, but she hopes to cover at least 2,000 graves this year. About 250 wreaths cover one section at the cemetery, which has 22 sections, plus the cremation area.

Williams’ goal is to cover one circle, which contains eight sections and 2,000 graves and 54 graves toward the entrance.

A wreath also will be placed on the grave of Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Morton A. Read (Civil War).

An individual wreath costs $15; a family may buy four wreaths for $60; a small business, 10 wreaths at $150; or a corporate sponsorship, 100 wreaths or more at $15 each.

All wreaths ordered will be sent directly to the National Cemetery, not to individuals.

In past years, the local Wreaths Across America ceremony was coordinated by Danville Elks Lodge 332, which will continue to help out this year.

“We will never forget our veterans,” said Jim Beebe, chairman of the wreaths program through the Elks. “We’re fortunate to have the hospital (Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System) and cemetery in the community.”

The Danville lodge and eight other Elks lodges in the district, from Paris to Bloomington, will make donations for wreaths.

The Elks lodge is a fraternal, not a military, organization, Beebe said, but the group works with veterans’ programs, such as Wounded Warriors, homeless veterans and bingo at the VA.

People may order wreaths through the Elks lodge, making sure they note the honored veteran’s name, date of death and grave location. The graves can be at any cemetery, not just the Danville National Cemetery. Last year, Beebe said, five wreaths were ordered for veterans at other cemeteries.

Williams has never been to a Wreaths Across America ceremony; instead, she stumbled across it on Facebook and wanted to get involved. Also, at Christmas one year, she was at the National Cemetery visiting a friend’s grave when she saw a few wreaths, but not many.

Williams also is getting involved in Wreaths Across America in honor of her friend, Kirk Melton, who died in a car accident in 2012. Both had worked at Presence United Samaritans Medical Center. Melton, who had been a medic in the Army, is buried at the National Cemetery, and Williams tends his grave.

“This is my friend. I want to make sure he’s honored,” she said.

She had often told Melton, “If you’re willing to sacrifice your life for me, the least I can do is be patriotic for you.”

Williams’ husband, Keith, is a veteran, and she’s raising her 13-year-old daughter, Kathryn Walker, to honor veterans.

Williams hopes people will get involved with donations and volunteering their time, and that businesses will make corporate donations.

“Our goal is to eventually cover all of the cemetery,” she said, which would be about 11,300 graves.

Williams also takes part in Red Shirt Friday to show support for troops who are deployed.

To help • To volunteer to help with Wreaths Across America, call Tammy Williams at 918-2922 or email her at emtp92968@yahoo.com. The Facebook page is Cover Danville National Cemetery. • To donate, go to www.WreathsAcrossAmerica.org, click on "how to help" and "locations" and click on Illinois, then the Danville National Cemetery. The group also has a Facebook page. • You also may donate through the Danville Elks Lodge, 421 N. Vermilion St., Danville, or call 442-0145.