Michael Frybarger, Volunteer Coordinator, addresses Saturday’s participants at the Wreaths Across America Event held at Floral Grove Cemetery in West Unity
By: Mark L. Mercer
WEST UNITY- The annual “Wreaths Across America” event, held to remember, honor, and teach about the service and sacrifice of our veterans and their families takes place on the second Saturday of each December. This years event was held on December 14 at Floral Grove Cemetery in West Unity. Floral Grove Cemetery is registered for wreath sponsorship with Wreaths Across America.
Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization, is a nationwide program who sponsors as well as coordinates ceremonies at over 800 cemeteries across the United States. Key to the programs success are volunteers and coordinators at local cemeteries to put in place a plan, publicize the event and coordinate with the national office delivery of wreaths for laying on the headstones of all veterans laid to rest. West Unity’s local coordinator and hometown hero for organizing this event at Floral Grove is Michael Frybarger.
Michael Frybarger, Volunteer Local Coordinator, set up this year’s event, ordering the number of wreaths needed for placement. (Floral Grove has 347 veterans laid to rest) Mike also coordinated delivery of the wreaths from Dutch Maid Logistics out of Willard Ohio, who delivered this year’s wreaths to Bryan Truck Lines, where the wreaths were picked up and delivered to Floral Grove for Saturday’s event. Mr. Frybarger’s tireless work and dedication to the program was key to Saturday’s success and turnout.
Yesterday’s ceremony and wreath laying took place in the face of our first major snowstorm of the winter, but the weather had no effect on the large number volunteers who turned out to participate in the event. Participants gathered at Floral Grove for the wreath placement armed with brooms to sweep off headstones and placed beautiful memorial balsam wreaths on each veteran’s final resting place.
Saturday’s wreath laying ceremony was especially meaningful to participants Noe Hernandez from Benson Arizona, his son Rudy Hernandez from Ft. Wayne and his Granddaughter Katie Hernandez also of Ft. Wayne. Noe’s father-in-law, along with his wife’s uncle, both US Army veterans from World War II are laid to rest side by side at Floral Grove, along with his daughter Leona Ankney. Noe and his granddaughter Katie lovingly cleared away their family members headstones and placed a wreath honoring their service and sacrifice. Noe’s son Rudy, a current active duty member of the US Army, veteran of the Gulf War in 1991 and a veteran of Operation Iraqi freedom in 2007 was also on hand to represent the US Army in placing a wreath at the Veterans Memorial Flag Pole honoring each branch of the military, as well as the Merchant Marines and the national POW/MIA organization.
The wreath laying ceremony at the Memorial Flag Pole at Floral Grove was the final event of the day, taking place at noon. Representatives from each branch of the military, along with a representative of the Merchant Marines and a representative of the national POW/MIA organization placed a wreath on their respective service markers at the base of the flag pole, followed by a minute of silence in thoughtful reflection of our veterans sacrifice. Participant’s representing each branch were Rudy Hernandez of the US Army, Kyle Brackenbury of the US Air Force, Phil Stotz representing the US Navy, Mark Mercer representing the US Marines, Arnold Lebowsky representing the Merchant Marines and George Bail representing the national POW/MIA organization. The United States Coast Guard was unable to provide a representative, but a volunteer stepped forward and placed the Coast Guard wreath.
At the conclusion of the day’s activities, Phil Stotz, commander of West Unity American Legion Post 669 along with Mr. Frybarger, hosted a social for event participants, providing coffee, hot chocolate and other refreshments. This year’s turnout was a tremendous success according to Mr. Frybarger who stated “I was very proud of our community and those from other communities that came to remember and honor our veterans, despite the weather. It is a testimony to our veterans that we will never forget them and the sacrifices they have made for our nation.”