St. Tammany residents are asked to join in a ceremony to honor the nation’s veterans through the laying of remembrance wreaths on the graves of those buried in Southeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Slidell.

The annual Wreaths Across America ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the cemetery, 34888 Grantham College Road.

Daniele Palen, the administrative coordinator at the cemetery who directs the local Wreaths Across America, said the ceremony reflects the nation's gratitude to the 1,800 veterans and their spouses buried at the cemetery, which opened in June of 2014.

“It’s not just about placing a wreath,” Palen said. “It’s a way of remembering them at Christmastime.”

Before each wreath is laid, she said, the veteran's name is read aloud, along with other information on their headstone.

“It’s to make sure we understand what each veteran out here gave up for their country.”

Each branch of the armed forces sends representatives to place their branch’s ceremonial wreath on a stand. There is also a ceremonial flag for POWs and merchant mariners who served in World War II.

The event begins with members of the Patriot Guard Riders, who arrive with the wreaths. The colors will be presented by the Civil Air Patrol, followed by singing of the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation by a military chaplain.

The SLVC director, retired Navy Cmdr. Ted Krumm, will speak.

The guest speaker will be Capt. Tony Scarpino from the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base. His remarks will be followed by the ceremonial wreath presentation and a three-volley salute by the Northshore Honor Guard.

Palen said family members with loved ones buried at the cemetery will then be asked to place their wreaths on the graves. All those at the ceremony who would like to can help place the remaining wreaths after saying the deceased veteran’s name at the grave site.

Volunteers are needed to come early to help take the wreaths out of packaging and distribute them throughout the cemetery. They are also needed to help with parking, setting up chairs, refreshments and cleanup.

The public is also invited to sponsor the wreaths with a donation of $15. The remembrance wreaths are handcrafted of American balsam and hand-tied with a red velvet bow in Columbia Falls, Maine.

National Wreaths Across America Day began at the Arlington National Cemetery and has spread throughout the country.

The fundraising is held from the national program’s website, and no payments are accepted at the SLVC offices, Palen said.

The St. Tammany Veterans and Military Affairs Advisory Council accepts donations on the national site, with all proceeds going to support SLVC. Other organizations can use it as a fundraiser, with $5 of the donation staying with the group.

They recently hit their goal for this year but are collecting donations for next year, when the need is expected to grow by 400 to 500 wreaths.

“This is a yearlong drive that starts in January,” Palen said.

Palen, an Air Force veteran, said the closest national cemeteries are in Biloxi, Mississippi, and Zachery. The VA now partners with states to build veterans' cemeteries that “are closer to home.”

SLVC is located on 75 acres donated from the Camp Villere Louisiana National Guard facility. 

“We’re in the first of eight phases of the cemetery,” Palin said. “We have another 65 years before reaching capacity.”  

In addition to Slidell, there are state veteran’s cemeteries in Leesville, Rayville and Keithville, and the groundbreaking for a fifth was recently held in Jennings.

Donations for wreaths at SLVC can be made at

www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/pages/14847/Overview/.

For information, contact Palen at Daniele.Palen@la.gov or call (985) 646-6458.