DEVENS -- Despite bitter cold temperatures, about 60 people turned out to Fort Devens Cemetery Saturday morning to honor the region's fallen veterans with a wreath-laying ceremony.
Organized through Wreaths Across America, this was the second year of the wreath-laying in Devens.
Lt. Col. Steven Egan, post commander at Fort Devens, thanked those who have served.
"Because of your sacrifices and those who lay here before you, we are free to do what most in the world can't even fathom, they don't even understand. Freedom to vote, freedom to travel, freedom to protest, freedom to do what you want to do. Nowhere else in the world can people say they have those freedoms to the degree we do here," Egan said.
Wreaths Across America is a national organization that dedicates one Saturday in December to coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and other veterans' cemeteries throughout the country.
Individuals can sponsor a wreath to be placed at a service member's grave for a $15 donation.
The recognition of Wreaths Across America Day provides an opportunity to honor the fallen, Devens' acting deputy Rich Nielen said.
"There are 420 veterans buried here, and they deserve to be respected just like the people who are buried at Arlington or other national cemeteries," Nielen said.
This year, 207 wreaths were donated, compared to about 70 last year. But the ultimate goal, according to Nielen, is to reach the 420 wreaths needed to account for every veteran buried at Fort Devens.
He said he is confident that the goal will be met next year, judging by the increase this year.
Attendance jumped from last year as well, rising from 30 people to about 60, Nielen said.
District 15 Commander Keith Jackson said the program has been growing nationwide, and he expects it to continue to grow at Fort Devens and beyond.
"It's important to remember our dead, and there's no better time to do it than Wreaths Across America Day. We have Veterans Day and we have Memorial Day but it's good to take a day to honor our dead. I don't know of any other country that does that," Jackson said.
Dawn Gordon, of Franklin, has donated to Wreaths Across America in past years, but came out for the first time Saturday to help lay the wreaths herself.
The military holds an important place in her family.
"My father was Army, I married Navy. My family was stationed here from 1965 to 1966 and then my dad went from here to Vietnam," Gordon said. "My father's 84 now and a Korea and Vietnam vet. I thought this was a special way to honor them."
For Eric Olsen, who points out that his first name forms the middle of the word "American," the reason for braving the cold on a Saturday morning was obvious.
"The veterans have to be remembered. They're why you're here," he said.
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