SEQUIM — Looking out across the cemetery speckled with small American flags, and to the crowd hushed in patriotic solemnity, Tom Coonelly reflected on his years during which it seemed his country was always at war with someone, somewhere.
Answering the call to conflict, he noted, were servicemen and women who never considered the qualifications of those they defended.
“They fought for all of us,” Coonelly said. “They simply believed all Americans are worth fighting for.”
Hundreds of citizens joined Coonelly in paying honor to veterans and active U.S. military men and women Saturday at Wreaths Across America, Sequim’s first participation in the national event.
The program at Sequim View Cemetery replicates Arlington National Cemetery’s tradition of laying wreaths at grave markers and headstones of military veterans.
Hosted by the Michael Trebert Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Sequim ceremony saw veterans and veteran groups from across the peninsula honor to the cemetery’s 577 veterans.
“The wreaths we lay on their graves are a small token of our respect,” Coonelly, a retired U.S. Army colonel and the event’s featured speaker, told the throng of attendees.
“The veterans interred here served our country, and therefore (served) all of us.”
The Sequim event was one of 2,557 participating Wreaths Across America ceremonies across the nation as volunteers honored an estimated 1.7 million veterans by laying a wreath and saying that veteran’s name aloud, noted Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America.
“The determination of the American people and their commitment to the mission to ‘Remember, Honor, Teach’ made it possible for us to move forward this year, safely,” Worcester said. “We are humbled and forever grateful for the outpouring of support from all across the country.”
In his featured remarks, Coonelly said that, by recognizing these veterans, participants symbolically pick up the torch of freedom, and that “it is our duty to carry it forward and pass it along to the next generation.”
The event not only honored those veterans who have died but those who have served and retired, as well as active military personnel, said presenter Lorri Gilchrist, a retired U.S. Navy commander
“We are here to say thank you; we are honored to know you,” Gilchrist said.
Veterans and active service members honored with wreath-laying one veteran from each branch of service representing the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Merchant Marines, as well as prisoner-of-war/missing-in-action personnel.
The event also featured a flag line from Clallam County Legion Riders Post 29, posting of colors by Port Angeles High School NJROTC Color Guard, singing of the National Anthem by Amanda Bacon, the Pledge of Allegiance led by First Class Scout Justice Beebe of Scouts BSA Troop 90 (Sequim), invocation by chaplain Nancy Zimmerman of American Legion Post 62, a gun salute by the Mt. Olympus Detachment Marine Corps League, playing of “Taps” by the Marine Corps League and “Amazing Grace” by bagpiper Ricky McKenzie (U.S. Coast Guard, retired), and a flyover by EA-18G Growlers from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.