By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Brown Navy.mil
BILOXI, Miss. (NNS) — Beneath the half-masted American flag flying over the Biloxi National Cemetery, five USS Arlington (LPD 24) Sailors joined more than 100 military and civilian volunteers for Wreaths across America Dec. 15.
Wreaths across America is a nonprofit organization founded to continue and expand the annual wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun in 1992. The mission of “Remember, Honor, Teach” is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies on a specified Saturday in December at Arlington, as well as veterans’ cemeteries in all 50 states and beyond, to remember America’s fallen heroes, honor those who serve and teach children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for Arlington Sailors to pay their respects for the service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country,” said Electronics Technician 3rd Class Jill Vangrinsven, who coordinated the event for the amphibious transport dock ship. “While many of our crew members were stationed at the training detachment in Norfolk, Va. last December, we participated in the Wreaths across America ceremony in Hampton, Va. I was very happy to find out that we could show our support in Mississippi at a national cemetery close to Pascagoula, where our ship is under construction.”
During the ceremony, a service member from each branch of the U.S. armed forces carried a wreath, decorated with a red bow, to the cemetery’s 30-foot monument, and rendered a salute as “Taps” was played. Afterward, wreaths were placed at the headstones of veterans interred across the cemetery’s 54 acres.
The Biloxi National Cemetery was established in March of 1934 as part of the VA Medical Center, and for nearly four decades, was a final resting place solely for veterans who died in the adjoining medical center. With the passage of the 1973 National Cemetery Act, the cemetery was opened to all honorably discharged veterans and their dependents, active duty personnel and their dependents, regardless of home of residence or where death occurred.
Arlington’s volunteering efforts were crucial to the success of Wreaths across America in Biloxi, noted David Rogers, director of Community Development for the City of D’Iberville, Miss. “It is only through the dedication of individuals such as yourselves that we are able to continue our support of this worthwhile program.
“You and your shipmates offer a stark contrast to the unproven representation that young people of today are too aloof and unpatriotic. I and my family rest soundly at night knowing that you and your shipmates are on watch.”
Bolstered by the success of planning two successful Wreaths across America events for USS Arlington, Vangrinsven is already making arrangements for the 2013 event.
“Next December, when Arlington is homeported in Norfolk, we are hoping to be able to support Wreaths across America at Arlington National Cemetery,” Vangrinsven said. “There is no greater way to honor our fallen veterans than by volunteering at our namesake.”
Arlington is named for Arlington County, Va., home of the Pentagon, in honor of the 184 victims and heroes who lost their lives during the terrorist attack there on 9-11.
Arlington is the eighth in Navy’s San Antonio class of ships, designed to be the most survivable amphibious vessels ever put to sea. The third in the U.S. fleet to bear the name, Arlington will be commissioned in April, 2013 and homeported in Norfolk, Va. The ship combines 21st century amphibious shipbuilding and warfighting technologies to support current and future Marine Corps aircraft and landing craft, and will be capable of taking nearly 1,200 Sailors and Marines into harm’s way. The ship was delivered to the Navy on Dec. 7, 2012.