There are many beautiful places here in Sarasota that I could recommend if you ever visit the area. One spot I just added to the list is the Sarasota National Cemetery. Opened in 2009, and called by many the “Arlington of the South”, it is already the final resting place for more than 8,000 veterans and eligible family members. Its current completed phase has capacity for approximately 35,000 graves, with expansion plans to accommodate veterans needs for the next 50 years. With the recently opened ceremonial amphitheater, “Patriot Plaza”, and the renowned placement and care of our National Cemetery system, it is an impressive place to visit.
I am ashamed to say I had not been there before this past Saturday, when my wife and I volunteered to lay wreaths as part of the now international Wreaths Across America day. Wreaths Across America started in 1992, when wreath maker Morrill Worcester's company had extra wreaths left before Christmas. With the help of his local Senator they arranged to transport and place them at Arlington National Cemetery. An organization sprang from that effort to honor our nation's veterans every holiday season, and it has grown considerably. This past Saturday, over 700,000 wreaths were laid at United States National Cemetery sites all over the world.
Here in Sarasota, well over 1,500 family members and volunteers turned out for the effort on a beautiful, cool morning. After a brief ceremony, we fanned out across the grounds, each taking one wreath at a time to place on the grave marker of one of these honored veterans. The atmosphere was both jovial and reverent; as well as respectful of religious preferences. Volunteers were told that, unless a family member wished to do so, wreaths were not to be placed on markers displaying the Star of David. With each assembled group assigned a section, the wreaths were placed in fairly quick order.
I made several trips placing these wreaths. After our section was complete, a group of us took remaining wreaths to a section across the cemetery that did not have enough. I approached two headstones from behind that did not have a wreath, selected one and laid the wreath at its base. The grave was for Sgt. Roger G. Coyle, a Bronze Star Recipient from World War II. I glanced at the other stone as I was leaving; ironically his name was Robert Wilson.
Every appropriate grave in the Sarasota National Cemetery – over 8,000- received a wreath this year. It was a touching day, and a tremendous opportunity to offer thanks for the freedoms we enjoy today. To know that tens of thousands of people across the country and across the world would take a moment to honor these men and women in uniform is a tremendous feeling, and visiting a National Cemetery should be a must on your bucket list. The care that these veterans are shown after they pass is extraordinarily impressive.
It is my hope that one day soon we will start providing the same care and attention to our veterans while they are still alive.