Area residents on Saturday paused in the midst of the holiday season to gather at the Ascension Veterans Memorial Park in Gonzales to remember deceased veterans for the first local Wreaths Across America Day ceremony.
The event was part of a nationwide movement held at the same time, on the same day to honor deceased veterans.
Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez and Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux attended the ceremony, which displayed wreaths designed for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and POW/MIA.
The Ascension Veterans Associations hosted the ceremony and distributed wreaths to place on the local grave sites of veterans in across Ascension Parish.
Tanya Whitney, committee chairwoman for the Ascension Veterans Memorial Park, said she first learned of Wreaths Across America while serving on active duty in Washington, D.C.
“Wreaths Across America is a national nonprofit organization founded in 2007 to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992,” Whitney said.
One hundred and thirty wreaths were placed on graves in Ascension Parish this year.
“The VA statistics say we have about 7,000 local veterans in Ascension Parish. We have quite a few in active duty,” Whitney said. “We want you to understand that the freedoms we enjoy today come at a cost that one day you yourself might have to pay.”
In addition to the wreath-laying ceremony, the Ascension Republican Women dedicated two new bricks for the park’s memorial garden in honor of Sgt. Justin Michael Kling and Staff Sgt. Brady Joseph Jackson. Joyce LaCour of the Ascension Republican Women presented the bricks to the family members were present at the ceremony.
Kling, who died on Nov. 26, 2014, was a lifelong resident of Gonzales and member of the United States Army, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Unit, 2nd Infantry Division.
Jackson, who died in 2014, was a 1999 graduate of East Ascension High School and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom II and VI.
At the end of the ceremony, Taps was played.
The Krewe de Halcyon, a new Mardi Gras krewe based in Prairieville, was also present to distribute wreaths.
“Our focus is not just on Mardi Gras. Our main focus is on family and community,” said Brandy Pitre, co-founder of the krewe along with Nichole Sitz and Vickie Hall, who were also present with their children.
For more information about the AVA, contact the AVA co-chairs, Whitney at 256-656-2124 or Missy Jandura at 225-936-2473. Follow the AVA on Facebook at facebook.com/ascension.veteransassociations or visit ascensionveteransassociations.org.