Wreaths Across America pays homage to fallen veterans

In touching tributes that played out at cemeteries across the country, the nation paused for a moment on Dec. 15 to remember its fallen military veterans through Wreaths Across America.

People fanned out to place wreaths on headstones throughout the 512-acre Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. To date, more than 129,000 have been laid to rest at the cemetery. (Randy Underhill)

An estimated 2 million wreaths were laid on the gravestones of military veterans, including more than 30,000 at the Florida military cemetery in Bushnell.

Thousands arrived to Bushnell early, on a cloudy, windy day, to take part in the annual ceremony.

The wreaths arrived in semi-trailer trucks.

People traveled there on motorcycles and in cars. They came as members of veterans organizations, civic clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. There were family members and friends of the veterans being honored.

This is the gravestone of Lowell Hathaway, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He is the father of Mary Eberhard, accounting manager for The Laker/Lutz News.

The crowd lined the narrow streets, as the escorted semi-trucks made their way to different sections of the 512-acre cemetery — delivering more than 30,000 wreaths to be placed at the headstones of veterans.

A ceremony was held at 11:45 a.m., with the presentation of colors, the placing of the POW/MIA table, the posting of ceremonial wreaths and other ceremonial touches.

Keynote speaker Maj. Gen. Michael E. Langley, of U.S. Central Command, spoke about the nation’s veterans, and their fortitude and willingness to serve.

The playing of “Taps” concluded the service.

The event was hosted by Wreaths Across America Bushnell and U.S. Military Vets MC.

Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell is off Interstate 75, about one hour north of Land O’ Lakes.

By Randy Underhill

Published December 19, 2018

Vernon Brown, of Fort Myers, a veteran of the Vietnam War, placed a wreath for a fallen soldier he did not know, during Wreaths Across America on Dec. 15.

Staff Sgt. Andrew King, of Oklahoma, and Sgt. Kristopher Calnon, from California, both stationed at MacDill, post one of the ceremonial wreaths during Wreaths Across America, at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

Ninety-six-year-old Lyle Strong, of Zephyrhills, stands proudly, as he is recognized for his service during World War II.

Local Harley Owner’s Group members Capt. David Kreiger, Land O’ Lakes, seated on motorcycle; Barbara Blakely, director, left center, of Lutz; Larry Blakely, secretary, of Lutz; and Luis Buitrago, treasurer, get ready to ride through the rain to the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. They are shown here in Land O’ Lakes.

Major Michael E. Langley, of the U.S. Central Command, was the keynote speaker for Wreaths Across America, an event at cemeteries across the country, including Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

U.S. Air Force veteran David Reeve, a member of the U.S. Military Vets MC, stands near a table set in honor of prisoners of war and missing comrades. Each item on the table has significance. The table is set for a meal, but never occupied, at every military ceremony.

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