The solemn tolling of the bells 12 times at 12 noon on Saturday, December 16, 2023, signified the start of the 16th Annual Remembrance Wreath Ceremony at the Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery (GVMC) in Glennville. Despite the drizzle of rain, the annual placement of these wreaths at the graves of veterans brought many families together. Many traveled for hours, from other cities in Georgia and even out of state, to place a remembrance wreath at the gravestone of their beloved husband, wife, mother, sister, brother, or child. For many, this ceremony is a pilgrimage that gives them peace during the Christmas season and a way of remembering their loved one always.
Harold Goodman, who now lives in Hinesville, kneeled before the headstone of his late wife, Beverly Goodman, who died December 2, 2018, at the age of 62.
“My place is right next to her,” said Goodman, pointing to the space next to her and reserved for him.
"I served 20 years and she served four years in the U.S. Army. I met her while I was stationed in Germany, and I look forward to being with her again one day,” he said.
Another family drove from Sandersville, Georgia, for the remembrance wreath placement on the grave of Michael J. Cerra, SP5, who served in the Army and died in May of 2021, at the age of 72.
“He was our beloved Poppy,” said his widow, Barbara, who was joined by other family members: Alisa Rossidivito, Tara Story, Hallie Fenton, Joseph Fenton, and Jennifer Tanner.
The Draughn and Lewis families are from Hinesville, and they came to place a wreath on the grave of the late Walter Draughn, Sr., who served in Vietnam in the U.S. Army. For their family, coming to the wreath-laying ceremony is an annual trek to pay homage and respect to their departed veteran, who died in 2018 at the age of 65.
Similar gatherings of other families took place at the cemetery last Saturday, where over 2400 veterans and family members are interred. Hundreds attended despite the rain, since the ceremony is a way of fondly remembering their loved one and the service he/she gave to their country.
Although Elaine Lester, Wreaths Across America Location Coordinator, was scheduled to serve as emcee, a vision problem prevented her from taking the podium. Her husband, Paul Lester, stepped in for her.
After the invocation from Rick Cason, pastor of Ebenezer Free Will Baptist Church and a member of the Glennville Faith Riders, the organization that raises funds for the wreath placements at the cemetery in Glennville, the Presentation of the Colors was held. These participants are Jr. ROTC Cadets from Effingham County High School.
Donnie Epperson, U.S. Army veteran and co-founder of the Glennville Faith Riders, led the hundreds gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the soul-stirring patriotic musical tribute from the 13th Colony Sound Chorus of Savannah. Their participation for many years is always highly appreciated. They sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
Glennville Mayor Bernie Weaver delivered greetings from the City of Glennville and welcomed the large crowd to Glennville.
GVMC Director Ernie Cowart welcomed the families of the loved ones who are buried at the Cemetery, and he commented that he and his staff take great pride in keeping the Cemetery well maintained, with it being personal as well since they have family members buried at the Cemetery.
The Effingham County High School Jr. ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) Cadets participated once again, as this group has from the first event of the GVMC in Glennville. They placed ceremonial wreaths representing the various branches of service as follows: Army-Tillman Sewta; Marines-Lewis Ulmet; Navy-Yadin Price; Air Force-Dallas Zabe; Space Force-Huntley Jayson; Merchant Marines-Joshua Brown; U.S. Coast Guard-Lillian McDaniel; and POW/MIA-Catelyn Alamo, for those over 80,000 U.S. servicemen from all branches of the service whose last known status was either Prisoner of War or Missing in Action.
A recognition was held, as it has been in recent years, of those veterans serving in various periods of service, which included those veterans serving from 1955 to 1975, 1975 to 2000, and from 2001 until now. Tokens of appreciation included a gift to each, a commemorative pin or a star from a retired American flag.
The official ceremony ended with the mournful played of “Taps” by Jayson Melton.
Family members departed first from the ceremony so that they could place the remembrance wreath on the headstone of their loved ones, followed by others attending and volunteers, such as the Glennville Faith Riders, in placing wreaths on the graves for whom a family member was not in attendance.