Wreaths Across America: Honoring our nation’s veterans close to home

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(Scroll down to see a video from the Dec. 13 ceremonies in Mahoning County.)

YOUNGSTOWN — Frank Bennett’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Turhand Kirtland, was not only an 18th century U.S. military veteran, but also founded the Ohio village where he is now buried.

Kirtland, originally from Wallingford, Connecticut, worked with the Connecticut Land Company, which had purchased Connecticut’s claims in what was to become Ohio in the years after the American Revolution.

Poland Village, which Kirtland helped found, was ‘Range 1, Town 1’ of the Western Reserve.

Bennett and his aunt, Gwen Guiraud, participated Dec. 13 in the national Wreaths Across America Day, coordinated in Mahoning County by the Ohio State University Extension master gardener volunteers. The pair laid a wreath at Kirtland’s grave in the Old Poland Church Graveyard.

“This is a wonderful tribute to these vets,” Bennett said. “The sacrifices they made shaped generations to follow.”

Kirtland’s wreath was one of more than 80 laid by the master gardener volunteers and members of VFW Post 9571 in Ellsworth, Ohio.

Tradition begins

Wreaths Across America was founded more than 20 years ago when the Worcester Wreath Company from Harrington, Maine, initiated a tradition of donating and placing wreaths on the headstones of veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It happened by accident, really,” Hugh Earnhardt, spokesperson for the OSU Extension master gardeners. “A fellow in Virginia had a number of Christmas wreaths he didn’t know what to do with, so he took them (to the Arlington National Cemetery).

“This is our 10th year and we adopt a cemetery every two years with the idea that the community will pick up and start doing it on their own.”

Honoring all veterans

Following a ceremonial presentation of wreaths in honor of U.S. Army, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and POW/MIA veterans, wreaths were placed at veterans’ graves at both Poland’s Old Church Graveyard and Cornersburg Cemetery in Youngstown.

Recognition of the service and sacrifice of veterans, living and deceased, and their families is especially poignant during the holiday season, Earnhardt said during the Cornersburg Cemetery ceremony.

“These veterans served with honor and distinction and some gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Earnhardt said. “And some left parts of their bodies in other countries. We have an obligation to take care of them.”

He added that it is perhaps most important that young people remember these sacrifices.

“Some day, you may be asked to give everything, just as your ancestors did,” Earnhardt said. “These older fellows went and gave their lives or interrupted their lifestyles. Each generations has to provide freedom and security to the next.”

Through the national program, more than 400,000 wreaths were placed in all 50 states, and at 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil.

To support

Sponsorships for the 2015 event will be accepted at any time.

If you would like to sponsor a wreath, call Mike Beaudis at 330-793-2062 or mbeaudis@aol.com for more information. Residents can also call OSU Extension at 330-533-5538.

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Brian Lisik lives in Canton, Ohio. A Suburban Newspapers of America and Ohio Newspaper Association award winner for column writing and series writing.

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