10,000 wreaths en route to Andersonville National Cemetery

Published 1:43 pm Thursday, December 13, 2018

ANDERSONVILLE — On Friday, Dec. 14, a convoy of trucks, police, fire, Patriot Guards, and a Huey helicopter will leave McDonough on a mission to bring 10,000 wreaths to Andersonville National Historic Site. The wreaths will be placed on the graves of fallen veterans buried in Andersonville National Cemetery at noon on Saturday.
The cargo of 10,000 wreaths shatters the previous record of 3,654 brought last year and means that almost half of the national cemetery will be graced with wreaths this year. “It will be an incredible sight,” said Andersonville National Historic Site Superintendent Charles Sellars.
The procession will leave McDonough at 9:45 a.m. on Friday and travel south on U.S. Highway 19. They will traverse the portion of U.S.19 named for SFC Victor A. Anderson, who was killed in action in Iraq and who is buried in Andersonville National Cemetery. One of the wreaths they will carry is destined for Anderson’s grave.
The procession will arrive in Americus at approximately 11:30 a.m. Veterans and all supporters of our military are invited to come out and welcome them as they drive on East Lamar Street through Americus. The caravan will then turn north onto Ga. Highway 49 and continue to Andersonville National Historic Site, where the wreaths will be unloaded and staged for placement the next day.
The incredible number of wreaths sponsored this year is thanks to the efforts of Bennett International, the Taylor Foundation, the Civil Air Patrol, and Wreaths Across America. Bennett International transported wreaths to Andersonville National Cemetery last year. When they learned of the park’s goal to place a wreath on each of the over 20,000 graves in the cemetery, they pledged to help increase the number of wreaths brought in 2018. The Taylor Foundation joined the effort as well, and it has been extraordinarily successful, almost tripling the number of wreaths sponsored.
“It is both humbling and exciting to see such support,” said Superintendent Sellars. “We are grateful to Bennett International, the Taylor Foundation, the Civil Air Patrol, and Wreaths Across America for their help in honoring those laid to rest in Andersonville National Cemetery.”
A record number of wreaths will require a record number of volunteers! The park is asking everyone to come out on Saturday to help place wreaths, some of which are marked for specific graves. Volunteers can arrive at Andersonville National Cemetery to register starting at 11 a.m.
At noon, the Civil Air Patrol will conduct a brief ceremony to honor America’s armed forces. Afterward, everyone will be invited to help place wreaths on gravesites as a special way to remember our fallen military who are no longer here for the holidays. Attendees may also bring a wreath to place on a specific grave or on one of thousands of unvisited graves.
Wreaths Across America is a national program that encourages individuals, community groups, and families to sponsor wreaths for placement in national cemeteries throughout the United States. At Andersonville National Historic Site, we want to make sure that each of the more than 20,000 gravesites in the cemetery is decorated with a wreath at least once. To accomplish this, undesignated wreaths are placed sequentially and rotated from one cemetery section to the next each year. For 2018, undesignated wreaths will be placed in Sections F, K, Q, J, I, and the Memorial Section.
This is the second year that Bennett International has been involved with Wreaths Across America. The company also is transporting wreaths to national and state cemeteries in Florida this week.
Kris Rzepkowski, executive director of marketing for Bennett headquartered in McDonough, told the Times-Recorder that the convoy coming through Americus Friday will consist of three truck (one has a beautiful Wreaths Across America wrap on the trailer), plus a huge contingent of motorcycles, Patriot Guard Riders and Georgia State Patrol.

Rzepkowski was asked how Bennett became involved. Bennett International’s Executive Vice President, Lee Gentry wanted to be involved because of the company’s membership in the Truckload Carriers Association which is the main trucking partner organization for Wreaths Across America. “Last year … one of our drivers, Marty Roberts, agreed to go to [Harrington] Maine to pick up a load of Wreaths. Because Andersonville is the closest National Cemetery to our McDonough home office, Lee directed our support there.”
Rzepkowski continued, “Through a great effort last year, we managed over 3,000 wreaths. Lee captured great momentum for this year and raised the fundraising goal to 5,000 wreaths. Through fundraising events at our driver appreciation day, and Chamber of Commerce, Bennett employees, agents, drivers, local community businesses, citizens, and the Taylor Family Foundation, our 501(3)(c) giving arm, raised over 5,000 wreaths. Wreaths Across America was so touched at the dedication. To Andersonville, they agreed to load an additional 5,000 to get our total over 10,000.”

Beth Alston contributed to this story.