Not enough wreaths — some ‘distraught’ at South Florida Veterans cemetery

Updated Dec 18, 2017
Several of the 7,000 wreaths donated by Wreaths Across America lay to lay over the graves of the buried veterans at The South Florida National Cemetery, Monday, December 18, 2017. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post

For the past three years, Michael Gersley’s parents — Richard and Sally Gersley — have been buried at The South Florida National Cemetery .

Richard was in the Air Force. He served in Korea. He died from cancer on Sept. 11, 2014, at age 84. His wife, Sally, was gone two months after her husband, dead from heart failure. She was 80.

Michael visits his parents at least once a month.

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He was there on Sunday, the day after Wreaths Across America, a national organization that lays remembrance wreaths on the graves of our country’s fallen heroes.

Each December, on National Wreaths Across America Day, the group coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as over 1,200 additional locations in the United States, at sea, and abroad.

People donate money to the organization to have a wreath placed on a gravesite.

About 3,000 people attended the one-hour ceremony at the South Florida National Cemetery. More than 7,000 wreaths were laid.

The Gersleys, however, didn’t get one.

“I saw there was no wreath at the grave site and I was so distraught,” said Michael, a 62-year-old Palm Beach County water treatment plant operator who lives in Lake Worth. “Each of the graves are supposed to have a wreath put into the headstone and they came up short somehow.”

Kevin Ridgeway, the cemetery’s interim director, said the site was supposed to receive 10,000 wreaths, but only about 7,000 arrived.

“The coordinator had to do some hard math and evenly distribute as best they could with what they had,” Ridgeway said. “We have 21,337 graves, so not every grave is able to have a wreath. Some get it and some don’t. We have nothing to do with that.”

Those other wreaths, Ridgeway said, were delivered to other cemeteries. “I don’t know if communication was lost, or if someone removed more than they should have. We have no control over distribution.”

James King, location coordinator for Wreaths Across America, said 2,707 wreaths were delivered somewhere else, but he isn’t sure where. “I told them they’ve been doing this for 25 years, it’s about time to get it right,” King said.

This was the 12th Wreaths ceremony at the cemetery on Saturday. Although the wreaths are delivered close to Christmas, Ridgeway said they are remembrance wreaths. “It has nothing to do with the holidays,” he said. “It’s to remember and honor the veterans who are laid to rest.”

Michael said about four or five other families were just as disappointed as he was on Sunday when they didn’t see any wreaths over the loved ones’ grave sites.

“There were a lot of wreaths in certain part of the cemetery, so you could tell they were moving through,” he said. “It’s just like they ran out, or something.”