By Susan Hiland
A global pandemic could not keep people from honoring their loved ones Saturday as the holidays approach. They just had to do things differently.
The Sacramento Valley National Cemetery each year has hundreds of visitors who come at Christmastime to lay wreaths on the graves of those who served our country.
Things changed this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the end goal was the same.
Volunteers in support of RememberAVet.net have been laying wreaths on the gravesites of veterans for the past six years with the help of family and community members.
The day typically includes a ceremony with thousands of visitors by the fountain, but not this year. The volunteer workday Saturday featured small, individual groups who scattered to place wreaths on the graves while maintaining distance from one another.
People could pick up the wreaths for the event during the week and come out Saturday or sooner for placement — and hundreds were expected to do just that.
The inspiration for the local group to place wreaths came from something seen on TV.
“It started when I saw a show on television about Wreaths Across America,” Wreath Project organizer Susie Stocking said.
They began laying wreaths at the Dixon cemetery for 325 veterans the first year. It has grown since then to 26,000 gravesites. Organizers expected more than 450 people to help lay wreaths throughout the morning Saturday.
The year has presented challenges for achieving the goal of having a wreath on 26,000 veterans’ graves at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery. The annual RememberAVet.net fundraiser was canceled due to the pandemic, which meant the 500 expected guests were not able to help raise money this year for the wreaths.
Instead, Stocking planned a “We’d Love To See You, But Can’t Right Now” fundraising no-event event. Like everything else, it went online. People were able to help by donating what they would have paid for a table at the event — or whatever they could give.
To save costs, Stocking opted to place evergreen boughs this year rather than wreaths. Organizers said the change makes the overall goal more attainable, which they said is the most important thing. The boughs are nearly the size of the wreaths and every bit as splendid to behold.
“That was a lot cheaper,” she said. “The boughs are about the same size as the wreaths but they just aren’t in a circle.”
Stocking said she felt they were lighter than the wreaths but just as beautiful.
The boughs seemed to make people happy.
Sivilay Thiphakhinkeo came out with her nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters to lay an evergreen bough on the grave of her mother, Saengchanh Thiphakhinkeo.
“They are so beautiful,” she said of the boughs. “I am very thankful we could have her here.”
Her mother, who died in 2017, was the wife of a veteran, Tech. Sgt. John Paul. Her being buried at the cemetery meant the world to the kids and family.
“The family could not have done (this),” Thiphakhinkeo said of the burial and marker her mother received at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery. “It would have been too expensive.”
Exter and Lisa Hardy of Davis met the family at the cemetery. The couple helped to sponsor Saengchanh Thiphakhinkeo when she came to America from Laos in 1986 through the church they attended.
“We came out to honor their mother,” Exter Hardy said. “We haven’t seen the children since they were little kids.”
They had a happy reunion with the family and enjoyed a chat before continuing to place boughs on the graves.
Donations are welcome year-round at www.wreathproject.org. To make a donation by check, send it to RememberAVet.net, P.O. Box 773, Winters, CA 95694.