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Two upcoming projects remember fallen service members by placing holiday greens and red ribbons on tombstones in national cemeteries
Carol Ann Cerkan lays wreaths over the graves of soldiers on Wreaths Across America Day in 2011.
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By CATHY DYSON
Both events started simply, with individuals placing several hundred wreaths on tombstones of servicemen and -women.
Both have grown to the point they'll set record numbers this year. Volunteers will decorate the final resting place of thousands of members of the armed forces. Some are loved ones they've lost; others are people they've never met.
Both events are open to the public, and visitors are encouraged to participate.
Dec. 1: The National Wreath Project
The first holiday after Marine Corps Sgt. Eric McColley, 23, was shot down in Africa as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, his parents got all the wreaths left over from their nearby Giant store and brought them to Quantico National Cemetery.
There, John and Susan McColley, who live in North Carolina, placed a wreath on their son's tombstone--and on those service members buried around him.
That was Christmas 2006, and the McColleys later created the Sgt. Mac Foundation to raise funds all year for the wreath project.
This holiday season, the McColleys will start their annual tradition in Gettysburg, where Eric was born and raised.
Volunteers will gather early on Friday, Nov. 30, in the parking lot of the Gettysburg Giant store. They'll tie red ribbons onto a record 7,000 wreaths this year, then load them into vehicles.
They'll place 1,600 at Gettysburg National Cemetery and 5,400 at Quantico National Cemetery in Triangle on Saturday, Dec. 1.
For the Quantico event, volunteers should gather about 9:30 a.m. at the circle in front of Section 10 on Rappahannock Place, said Stan Clark. He's one of about five board members who work, without pay, throughout the year on foundation projects.
Starting at 10 a.m., the group will distribute the holiday greens and red ribbons. The event also includes a ceremony and prayer.
Typically, the event attracts people from toddlers to octogenarians, as well as veterans groups and motorcycle riders.
"It's just a real mix of people," Clark said. "We like to see that."
This year's wreath project will cost $56,000. Donations can be sent to the Sgt. Mac Foundation, 915 Fairview Ave., Gettysburg, Pa. 17325, Attn: Stan Clark.
Dec. 15: Wreaths Across America
In 1992, Merrill Worcester acted on an impulse similar to the one the McColleys had. He owns Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine, and had leftover wreaths on Christmas Eve.