“We’re not here to decorate graves, we are here not to remember their deaths, but their lives,” said Bart Caster, firefighter with the Orland Volunteer Fire Department, during the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony at Odd Fellows Cemetery in Orland. 

Both Willows and Orland cemeteries joined more than 1,600 cemeteries across the country to honor veterans buried at local cemeteries. 

Carol Lemenager, one of the co-chairs of the event and a member of the Willows Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary 1770, said they had full coverage in Willows – which has nearly 1,300 veterans laid to rest. They also placed 52 wreaths in Artois and sent some to Princeton as well. 

“The importance is to remember and honor veterans who serve and try to teach children and adults that freedom isn’t free,” she said. 

Bill Whitney, a U.S. Army veteran, attended the event in Willows and has six uncles buried at the Willows Cemetery – including four placed in a row – along with his father. 

“It livens things up and brings joy to the families,” Whitney said. “They’re missing their family members.”

He said it’s also “one of the last great things I can do to honor veterans.”

Dottie Tefelski, coordinator of the Orland Wreaths Across America event, said there are about 1,350 veterans buried at the Orland Cemetery District’s four cemeteries and they were able to collect about 900 wreaths. 

Tefelski said they use extra donated wreaths to decorate graves of veterans who don’t have families around to donate and place a wreath – she said there are a number of veterans from wars such as the Civil War and Spanish-American War. 

“I think everything went wonderful. We were blessed with good weather, a good crowd and a lot of volunteers,” Tefelski said. “... Thank you to the community for the support.”

During the ceremony at the Orland Cemetery District, the Orland High School band performed a song for each branch of the military as a wreath was displayed for each branch – a wreath was also placed in honor of those who severed and their last known status was either prisoner of war or missing in action. 

Caster quoted former president Ronald Reagan during the ceremony, saying “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”

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