FORT MILL — As David Isner walks through Unity Presbyterian Cemetery, he looks at the graves and thinks about the people behind each name.
He’s drawn to veteran’s graves.
“I think about the stories,” he said. “They all have a story.”
Those stories are part of the reason Isner, 2nd Lt. with the Civil Air Patrol, is helping organize the Wreaths Across America program in Fort Mill for the second year.
Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization that coordinates wreath laying ceremonies for veterans’ graves at cemeteries around the country. More than 700 locations across the U.S. will join Arlington National Cemetery in placing holiday wreaths on the graves of servicemen, all at the same date and time.
In Fort Mill, the public is invited to attend at 8:45 a.m. Dec. 15 at Unity Presbyterian Church cemetery, when the wreaths will arrive by police and South Carolina Patriot Guard escort. They’ll be received by local Civil Air Patrol cadets, area high school JROTC cadets and scout troops.
Last year, Fort Mill resident Ann Williams gathered at Unity’s cemetery for the first Wreaths Across America memorial in Fort Mill, along with her son, a Civil Air Patrol cadet.
Watching the wreaths placed on veterans’ graves was “wonderful, and very moving,” she said.
It also made her reflect on the sacrifice so many of the veterans made for their country.
“My dad was in World War II and Korea. For the first time I really, really realized what it meant for those people to give their lives. We live these cushy American lives where we’re safe from everything. It made me respect my dad more and our military,” she said.
After the wreaths are placed on the graves, there will be a breakfast at the Fort Mill VFW for $8 per person followed by a dedication of the wreaths at the Fort Mill Veteran’s Park at 11:30 a.m. All events are open to the public.
The Wreaths Across America mission is to “Remember, honor and teach.”
“It’s wrapped into the joy and happiness but it also remembers and recognizes the veterans at the holiday,” Isner said. “You remember the sacrifice of the individual for the country, you honor their service and you teach young people that the price of freedom is sometimes very high.”
The wreaths are paid for by donations to Wreaths Across America. The local Civil Air Patrol squadron, the SC- 092 squadron, has also asked for donations outside area businesses on recent weekends. General Dynamics Armament & Technical Products, a Charlotte-based company, also sponsored 100 wreaths as a corporate donation.
“People open their wallets and hearts to sponsor veterans, whether they know them or not,” Isner said.
In total, they’ve raised enough to put wreaths on 210 graves in Unity’s cemetery. There are more than 800 veterans graves in the cemetery, Isner said, so there aren’t enough wreaths for each grave, but the 210 wreaths will be dedicated in honor of all of the veterans.
Already, in just their first two years of bringing the Wreaths Across America program to Fort Mill, the group has doubled the amount of wreaths its been able to place on graves. Last year, members raised enough to place around 100 wreaths.
As the event grows and becomes a holiday tradition in the town, Isner hopes to donations grow and the wreaths will fill the cemetery.
“I hope someday we can get a wreath on every veteran’s grave,” he said.