OUR OPINION: Wreaths bring life to stories of veterans

One acorn has all it needs to grow and produce an oak tree.

With enough sun, water and soil, that acorn can grow roots and limbs that will produce thousands of acorns each year for a century or more.

Each of those new acorns have the life and DNA needed to produce even more trees.

From a simple seed, a forest can be created.

Much like that one acorn, a Capital City holiday tradition that honors veterans' sacrifices by placing wreaths on their graves has grown beyond its original purpose.

The Wreaths for Heroes event, which is coordinated by the Jefferson City Veterans Council, began in 2010 under the leadership of Lorraine and Pete Adkins.

In 2009, the Adkinses attended a Wreaths Across America event at Jefferson City's National Cemetery. There was little support at that community event, and it troubled Lorraine.

That disappointment fueled her mission to ensure the veterans' sacrifices weren't forgotten.

In less than a year, Adkins and a committee of about 15 had raised money, gotten most area schools involved, organized local vendors for donations and volunteers, and before Christmas 2010, put an artificial wreath and red bow on each of the National Cemetery's 1,587 graves.

Chris Jarboe, the president of Operation Bugle Boy, an organization dedicated to honoring and supporting local veterans, recalled in 2017 when Adkins presented the idea of Wreaths for Heroes to OBB Vice President Don Hentges and himself in 2010.

Jarboe said he could tell there was no stopping Adkins, something her husband confirmed on the phone at the time, too. "Coach Adkins basically said, 'By golly, she's going to do it.' And when I heard that from Coach Adkins, I knew the train had already left the station. And the rest is history," Jarboe said.

And that train has been chugging along ever since.

Lorraine died in 2017. But her legacy has only grown stronger.

A few years ago, Wreaths for Heroes began purchasing new wreaths for the National Cemetery and donated the older wreaths to other Mid-Missouri communities and cemeteries so the gravesites of their veterans could be decorated.

Through that generosity, the dream Lorraine had grew exponentially, and so did the impact it had on the volunteers who placed the wreaths on the graves.

On Monday, a group of Russellville High School students gathered around a grave they had just decorated at Enloe Cemetery. They learned the story of Raymond D. Farris, who was only 19 years old when he died in the Mediterranean Sea while serving the United States during World War II.

The students realized the veteran had died when he was about their age, and they gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of the service and sacrifice of that 19-year-old.

The motivation that fueled Lorraine's passion when she planted that first acorn is she didn't want the community to forget the sacrifices veterans made.

The students at the grave of that 19-year-old won't forget.

Don Hentges, president of the Jefferson City Veterans Council, is driven by similar motivations.

"It's very important that we don't forget the sacrifices that veterans make," Hentges said. "And by doing these ceremonies, we're keeping their memory alive."

You have a chance to help keep those memories alive. Show up at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the cemetery, 1024 E. McCarty St., to assist with the ceremony or to simply remember the veterans' sacrifices.

It would bring a smile to Lorraine's face.

-- News Tribune