Tonganoxie assists in Wreaths Across America efforts
Diana Pitts has helped place wreaths at the soldiers’ graves at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery for seven years.
Pitts has worked 26 years at Fort Leavenworth, but the annual process is important to Pitts for another reason.
Her oldest son, Cpl. David Unger, died Oct. 17, 2006, while serving in Iraq.
He died 364 days after Cpl. Lucas Frantz of Tonganoxie was killed while serving in Iraq. Frantz was a Tonganoxie High School graduate; Unger graduated from Leavenworth High School.
Pitts said she’s involved with decorating the graves, part of the national Wreaths Across America, because it’s paramount that those who served are remembered for their personal sacrifices.
“People go on with their daily lives,” Pitts said. “Many of them don’t realize why they can do that. Or they refuse to admit why they do it.
“And it’s our military that provides them both of those rights.”
On Dec. 13, several groups in Leavenworth County, including Tonganoxie VFW Post 9271 and American Legion Post 41, and the surrounding area helped place 3,627 wreaths at soldiers’ graves.
Several local Boy Scout troops also assisted with the effort.
“We had a bunch of civilians from Tonganoxie,” Pitts said. “It was a very regional effort.”
Pitts visited the Statehouse Dec. 8 for a ceremony with Gov. Sam Brownback recognizing the program.
Wreaths Across America’s origin dates back to 1992 when Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, had a surplus of wreaths.
Remembering a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. as a boy, owner Morrill Worcester pushed for those surplus wreaths to be donated to the national cemetery, according to wreathsacrossamerica.org.
With the help of a Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, had arrangements made to lay the wreaths at graves in an older section that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.
The effort eventually drew national attention in 2005 and in 2006, Worcester started donating seven wreaths — one for each military branch and for POW/MIAs — to each state. In 2008, Congress unanimously voted Dec. 13 to be Wreaths Across America Day.
In 2010, Wreaths Across America and its national network placed more than 220,000 wreaths at 545 locations in the United States and beyond. Wreaths also are placed at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedies. The annual efforts are made possible through help from more than 900 fundraising groups, corporate contributions and donations of trucking and shipping and thousands of helping hands, the site says.
Wreaths Across America’s mission is “Remember, Honor, Teach.”
Pitts works at the Fort Leavenworth chapels at the child care center for the various ministries said the annual ceremony was a stark reminder of the many lives that have been lost in serving the country. The Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery has roughly 22,000 graves.
“When I was walking through the cemetery, I was looking at the last section we did,” Pitts said. “I stopped and looked to the left and to the right and started crying.
“It was nothing but unknown soldiers. “Some of them probably have never, if ever, had someone visit them.”
The wreaths are placed in a rotating basis at the cemetery. A few sections will be covered this year and then a handful of designated sections will be covered next year as part of the rotation.
For more information about the local Wreaths Across America efforts for 2015, people can contact Pitts at 913-306-7324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.