Wreaths Across America, a nationwide tribute to deceased veterans of military service, was welcomed to Tangipahoa Parish by a large number of members of veterans’ organizations and their families and friends in ceremonies held in several cities Friday and Saturday.

The weekend began with a tribute to the parish’s veterans in Amite when two semi trucks delivered Tangipahoa Parish’s allotment of wreaths to a waiting group of veterans and others. This was followed by Saturday events in various local cemeteries and was concluded on Monday when the wreaths were placed on the graves of veterans.

In remarks to the crowd gathered at Wal-Mart in Hammond, Vietnam veteran Tommy Muster called the event “a great day for all of our veterans, both those who have passed on and those still with us. We are blessed to live where we do because Tangipahoa Parish is a great place to be a veteran. You, the people of this parish, support our veterans 100 percent and for this we are most grateful.”

Support shown for the program throughout the parish bolstered Muster’s observation.

The crowd applauded Muster’s remarks and those of other speakers taking place in the ceremony. The two trucks were met at the Mississippi state line just north of Kentwood by state troopers and several dozen veterans riding motorcycles. The convoy led the trucks into Amite where the welcoming group awaited. An elite veterans team from Bogalusa, the 40 and 8 Veterans, presented the colors and later fired off a 21-gun salute in tribute to all veterans.

Keynote speaker for the event was Louis Joseph, a U.S. Army veteran, member of the Tangipahoa Parish Council and a former superintendent of the parish’s school system. Joseph challenged the audience to fulfill what he called “a mission.”

“That mission is to remember the sacrifices of those men and women who have defended our nation, especially those who gave their lives in combat, to honor and take care of the veterans who are still with us, and to teach our children that it is an honor and a duty to serve our nation when we are called upon to do so,” Joseph said.

Joseph told his fellow veterans that the gathering was the community’s way of saying “thank you for your service to your country.” Joseph said the United States has the best trained and best equipped armed services in the world and expressed his confidence that the men and women now serving in uniform will continue to defend their nation as other generations have done before them.

In separate ceremonies in several Tangipahoa Parish communities the wreaths were presented with honors at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Retired U.S. Navy Officer George Will, of Hammond, emcee for the ceremonies at the Holly Garden Cemetery in Hammond, explained that all Wreaths Across America programs are timed to start at the same time throughout America and in foreign countries where many veterans are buried. Ceremonies are timed to start at the hour when wreath laying begins at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, D.C.

Veterans of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, the Merchant Marines and Coast Guard took turns lifting a wreath from a table and hanging in on stands set in front of the audience. A seventh wreath was presented on behalf of the armed services personnel who remain missing in action or as a prisoner of war.

The Ponchatoula High School Junior ROTC Marine unit presented flags for the ceremony. The presentation ended with a 21-gun salute delivered by members of American Legion Post 258 of Springfield.

Besides American Legion members, other groups participating in the wreath ceremony were Veterans of Foreign Wars, Am Vets, and an organization dedicated to support of the POWs-MIA effort.

“We are one nation, we live under one flag, and though we are many different peoples who don’t all look alike, follow the same faith or hold the same ideas, we are still one nation,” Will said in his opening remarks. “We have survived as a nation because of the sacrifices made by the men and women who have successfully defended our freedoms since the days of our founding fathers. This nation was founded in freedom on the principles of justice and equality for all. We can thank our veterans for the privileges we enjoy today … they have paid the price to preserve our freedoms.”

Hammond attorney Sam Dileo said “when you go to bed at night in a nation at peace, you can sleep well because you know your nation is being defended by dedicated men and women in uniform who are defending our nation. These are men and women of character. They are serving in the great tradition of the veterans who have gone before them, those veterans who have sustained our nation and the freedoms we enjoy. I say to those veterans, ‘you are my heroes.’ ”

Will said in an interview that the Wreaths Across American organization hopes to place 900,000 wreaths in cemeteries in the U.S. and abroad. The wreaths are made of balsam fir in Maine and are delivered by drivers for Wal-Mart, FedEx and other companies by volunteer drivers. Each wreath should last for about three months.

The wreaths cost about $14 each and that cost is covered by individuals, families of veterans and funds donated by businesses and civic organizations. Hammond residents will place 252 wreaths on the graves of veterans.

Will said at the ceremony’s conclusion Saturday that this year’s wreath tribute is the fourth held in Tangipahoa Parish. He said that the event has grown each year and that more and more citizens are coming forward to support the movement.

“This is one very visible way that we can honor our veterans and it shows community support for what our veterans have done to preserve our principles and freedoms. This is the least we can do to say ‘thank you’ for the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made over many years and still make today.”