PLATTSBURGH — Kathy Baumgarten is a veteran who knows what it’s like to be away at Christmastime.
When she was stationed overseas in Kuwait during the Iraq invasion, she hoped that people at home missed her as much as she missed them.
But the true heartbreak, she said, is not the people who are away, but the people who are forever gone.
As president of the Lake Champlain Chapter NY1 chapter of the Military Retirees’ Association, Baumgarten helped to bring Wreaths Across America to the North Country last year. Donors purchased wreaths that volunteers placed at the graves of military veterans in the Old Post Cemetery, located on the old side of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
A nonprofit group, Wreaths Across America’s purpose is to decorate the graves of fallen service members around the country for the holidays.
The program began as an effort to adorn each headstone in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and has snowballed to include more than 600 locations with 150,000-plus volunteers.
For $15, anyone can sponsor a wreath to be laid on one of the Old Post Cemetery’s 299 veterans’ graves.
Sponsors need no connection to a veteran interred there, and they do not have to attend the Dec. 15 ceremony for their wreath to be placed.
“We decorate our homes with these big light displays, but we don’t think about these little graves, whose owners’ families don’t decorate them, maybe don’t even know where they are,” she said.
NOT ENOUGH WREATHS
The Old Post Cemetery is final resting place for 136 unknown soldiers, 163 named veterans and many family members.
Among those interred there is Specialist First Class Thomas Kelly, a veteran of the Spanish American War and Medal of Honor recipient.
The wreaths, made in Maine, will be brought to Plattsburgh on Friday, Dec. 14. At noon the next day, anyone willing to volunteer can lay them beside the grave markers and headstones of the veterans of many different wars.