By JACK DURA, The Bismarck Tribune
BISMARCK, ND (AP) — Sheri Haugen-Hoffart remembers thinking how sad it would be if some headstones at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery didn’t receive a wreath this Christmas.
In her car years ago, listening to a radio show on Wreaths Across America, she was determined to get involved.
“It’s important to show respect to these veterans who proudly served for us and fought for the rights we have,” the Rugby native said.
Her grandfather was a disabled World War I veteran and she has other relatives who also served.
“It’s a passion of mine to honor these veterans,” she said.
At the time, in 2013, she headed the Bismarck Mandan EDC House Military Affairs Committee, and she introduced the annual crown memorial to the board as something to undertake.
With permission granted, “I picked up the phone and started calling organizations and individuals I knew and asking them to donate to this worthy cause,” Haugen-Hoffart said.
Maine-based Wreaths Across America is raising money to lay wreaths at veterans’ graves.
The cemetery south of Mandan has had wreaths laid on every grave since 2013 – an annual feat accomplished in as little as 15 minutes. This is due to a strong volunteer turnout, reported The Bismarck Tribune.
Civil Air Patrol’s Bismarck Composite Squadron is hosting the event. This year, every grave will again have a wreath – over 7,700, thanks to sponsors, many of them families.
The 15th annual event is a return to the traditional format and ceremony after changes to avoid a large gathering in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The only difference from tradition will be an addition to honor the US Space Force, created in 2019, according to Squadron Lt. Col. Kevin Iverson.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to deal with this,” he said.
He is happy that the traditional method is back.
“It’s a good event. It’s outside. We are not indoors so the risk of COVID is quite low. There’s a lot of room there for a lot of people,” Iverson said.
Considering the thousands of crowns to be dropped, “it’s really great to have the public involved in this,” he said.
Cemetery director Pamela Helbling-Schafer said the event’s popularity and significance were intertwined.
“It’s just one more thing the public can do to, #1, pay tribute, and #2, participate in helping our region help our veterans and their families,” he said. she declared.
Volunteers can help remove the wreaths on January 22.
Iverson hopes the Northern Plains weather cooperates, especially with no fallback date given that Christmas is the following weekend.
Haugen-Hoffart, who plans to help place wreaths, encourages people to donate to other veterans’ organizations as well, such as those that support veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or disabilities or who are homeless.
“All need attention and honor, respect,” she said.