YAKIMA — Despite the fog and the chill, it was important for Ken Campbell to visit Tahoma National Cemetery on Thursday morning and honor his fellow veterans.
“That’s what they deserve,” Campbell said after placing a flag-inspired decoration atop a military gravestone, along with a small holiday wreath. “I’m still alive. They’re not.”
Campbell, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient who lives in Selah, has been a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for about 15 years. At least 11 of those years, he has joined others in placing wreaths on the graves of veterans for an annual December ceremony honoring them.
The ceremony, which is open to the public, is part of Wreaths Across America, an effort that began in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery.
“All I can do is this,” Campbell said. “It makes me feel better. I put a little warmth on each one.”
He was among more than two dozen people who began placing 900 wreaths on gravestones shortly before 11 a.m. The wreaths are realistic fakes. On Saturday, participants will put up larger live wreaths at the cemetery.
All wreaths face to the west, crowned with bright red ribbons and secured with twine so they don’t blow over. Some have small golden pine cones or other decorations.
“The first year, there were just a few of us,” said VFW member Gene Hazen. The annual effort is organized by the VFW Auxiliary, Yakima Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Old Guard Riders.
Now it’s all kinds of people — veterans and active duty soldiers, women and men, parents and their children, business managers and employees. “We have people here from Grandview,” said Dianne Hall of the VFW Auxiliary, an organizer.
The auxiliary has been gathering and placing the wreaths for about 10 years, she said. The DAR joined the effort five years ago. The Yakima Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol is also involved, and organizers contact Leroy Rothamel of the National Guard for help placing and picking up the wreaths, Hall added. The Veteran Patriot Riders provide coffee and hot cocoa.
It took less than an hour for volunteers to place the wreaths on Thursday, Hall said. She praised them for their help.
“I think it’s great. I just wish we could get more wreaths,” she said. “We need more wreaths for the whole cemetery.”
According to cemetery records, Hall said, there are 974 veterans buried in the military section among 2,069 veterans total buried throughout Tahoma.
Donations are always welcome, and the effort to honor them was boosted this year with a $1,500 grant from Legends Casino Hotel through its annual Yakama Cares program. Yakama Cares provided more than $1 million in funding to nonprofits, community groups, agencies and school districts.
Wreaths will remain on veterans’ graves until the first week of January or later, depending on the weather, Hall said. They don’t want the wreaths or their bright bows to become bedraggled.
The red bows received a little extra attention as volunteers made sure they weren’t crumpled or flattened. Organizers had another special request, too.
“We asked them to say the name that’s on the stone as [they’re] placing it and say, ‘You are remembered,’” Hall said.