A chorus of solemn, young voices echoed “we remember” Dec. 14 as seven wreaths were placed in front of the 101st Airborne Division headquarters.
The wreath placement, part of a Wreaths Across America ceremony, honored the five services – the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard – as well as the Merchant Marines and prisoners of war/missing in action.
Wreaths Across America’s mission is to remember, honor, and teach the next generation about the sacrifices made by service members. At Arlington National Cemetery and more than 1,600 other locations across the nation, at sea and abroad, men, women and children carry out that mission.
Dozens of young people joined Soldiers, the Sunrise Rotary Club of Clarksville and other volunteers for a ceremony outside division headquarters before then moving to Mahaffey Middle School where JROTC cadets from Rossview High School broke off into groups.
Under a gray sky, members of each group took turns telling about the wars and conflicts, part of a service-learning project for Rossview High’s JROTC program, said Siera Millard, senior.
“We have to understand why we say thank you, instead of just saying thank you,” the 17-year-old said.
They formed up and went to the chain-link fence near the T.C. Freeman Gate, where volunteers helped hang 101 wreaths.
“I am humbled to be in the presence of our veterans and their Families – and I want to especially welcome our Gold Star Families and our POW/MIA Family members,” said retired Army Col. Michael Taliento, who is now director of Army instruction for the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System and a Sunrise Rotary Club member who helped organize the event. “Thank you for your service and the sacrifice you and your loved ones have made to keep America free and to preserve our way of life.”
Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 by Maine wreath-maker Morrill Worcester who had 5,000 wreaths placed at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992. The event grows every year.
Taliento said more than 2 million volunteers placed 1.8 million wreaths last year at the gravestones of service members at veterans cemeteries across the nation and abroad.
“Today, here at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, we gather to honor the lives and service of America’s Screaming Eagles who made the ultimate sacrifice and to honor their service by placing 101 wreaths along Screaming Eagle Boulevard,” he told the crowd at the ceremony. “Today, we honor those who served and died in World War II, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, as well as current missions.”
The Rossview High School JROTC honor guard presented colors and Bethel University student Adannis Delis and Rossview High School student Alyssa Bothner sang the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Taliento sought to combine the rotary’s effort with Fort Campbell to “remember our fallen veterans, honor those who serve, and teach the next generation the price of freedom through the simple act of placing a wreath,” Bell said.
He also talked about its circular shape of the wreath representing eternity, evergreens representing everlasting life and red bows representing the sacrifice of veterans.
The Fort Campbell Wreaths Across America was launched on post last year after the Sunrise Rotary Club had the idea to honor the most deployed units in the Army – the 101st Airborne Division, 5th Special Forces Group, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and 52nd Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), as well as others, Bell said.
“I think you’ll agree, it is quite appropriate to take pause during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to remember those who helped grant us the freedom,” he said. “About 50 million veterans have served our country since 1776. We recognize our veterans become our greatest teachers. Their actions, virtues and deeds serve as life’s most important lessons.”
Tamela Taliento, wife of Michael Taliento, and a rotary member, whose father served in Vietnam said it meant a lot to her to take part in the Wreaths Across America ceremony.
“It means a lot to encourage Soldiers and let them know their community cares about them, the country cares about them and we appreciate their service,” she said.
Having students learn about past military campaigns makes the sacrifices real to them, Tamela Taliento said.
“We are honoring, remembering and educating and that’s the mission of Wreaths Across America,” she said. “To get the youth involved is phenomenal.”