Photos by Lori Graham
The Southwest Virginia Veterans Cemetery Wreath Laying Ceremony was held Saturday, Dec. 16, and was attended by a large crowd in recognition of the sacrifice many veterans have made for freedom.
The ceremony is highlighted by the placement of a live wreath on their stone marker, as well as the veteran’s spouses buried there. The more than 1,700 live wreaths are shipped from Maine and delivered to the cemetery within a few days of the ceremony.
A founding member of the volunteers and ambassadors’ programs is Mary Lou Summers, who has tirelessly devoted time and energy to the cemetery. She started her work at the SWVA cemetery 11 years ago and will be retiring at the end of 2023.
“The volunteers are the people who are the main branch of the group. They are in charge of collecting donations to support the wreath program. We have a brand-new project coming up, a $250,000 bell tower, so they do all of that work. They meet monthly and are all non-profit and volunteers,” Summers said. “The ambassadors are a separate group who takes one day out of the month, a weekday, to set aside so that every single veteran who is buried here has a friend at their burial so that no veteran is ever buried alone.”
Some people can serve in both positions but are all a part of the big organization that keeps the programs for the cemetery running.
“There are more than 2300 people buried here,” Summers said. “It is possible that a husband and wife are in the same gravesite, and there are more people buried here than we actually have gravesites. We have the Scatter Gardens, then we have the Memorial Gardens for people who their bodies were never returned… then in-ground cremation, the Columbarium, and then the gravesites.”
Under a blue sky and temperate weather, family, friends, volunteers, and many local organizations assembled in respect of veterans who have passed.
“One of the interesting things today is, we are featuring the youth. So, we have all these groups of young people who will hand out the wreaths to families; we call them wreath distributors,” Summers said.
Local junior ROTC groups and youth organizations were on site to assist in handing out the wreaths.
Summers was recognized as a founder member of the SWVA Veterans Cemetery during the ceremony. Summers is also the wife of the late Rear Admiral John Summers who was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. Mary Lou Summers, upon seeing the ceremony of honor conducted at the Arlington cemetery for her husband, brought many ideas to the SWVA region’s veteran cemetery. Her goal was to see that no veteran is buried without someone present to pay them respect. The 2023 ceremony was dedicated in her honor and dedication and given a token of appreciation for her service.
Fundraising is ongoing for a bell tower that will be located at the entrance of the cemetery. The bell is currently housed in the administrative building on the cemetery’s property.
Barbara Spence, Deborah Zimmerman, and Ann Crawford are some of the volunteers and ambassadors who provide many hours of service to the SWVA Veterans Cemetery. Zimmerman has both her mother and veteran father buried in the cemetery, and Spence has a cousin also interned at the cemetery. Each marker has a wreath placed by a family member, friend, or volunteers so that every service member is recognized during the Christmas holiday season.
“A lot of people still don’t know that this cemetery is here,” Spence said. “This is a veteran’s cemetery.”
The SWVA Veterans Cemetery provides some burial options that are of no-cost to the veteran or their spouse and can be applied for at any time, including before the service member’s end of life. The Virginia Department of Veterans Services website at www.dvs.virginia.gov provides full details and an application link for anyone interested in finding out more information.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) 2069th Chapter of the Veterans Committee were present as well with William “Willie” Price currently serving as their chairperson. Committee members were present to park cars and provide support in the wreath laying ceremony.
“We bring trucks, we bring motorcycles, and we partner with the cemetery and try to help them meet a lot of their needs in raising…if they have events that need volunteers,” Price said. “Whatever that needs to be done.”
The trucks are owned and wrapped by Volvo, Trucks North America, located in Pulaski County, and members of the committee are made up entirely of current or retired employees.
The SWVA Veterans Cemetery is located at 5550 Bagging Plant Road in Dublin and has a Facebook page with more information along with additional pictures from the recent wreath laying ceremony.