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Wreaths to remember veterans

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Annual ceremony at Fernley honors those who served their country

More than 2,400 volunteers braved the frigid 22-degree temperature of Saturday morning to remember veterans interred at both the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.

After an opening ceremony at the NNVMC to explain the purpose of the Wreaths Across America program and to honor the various services of the U.S. military, family members, friends and total strangers took wreaths to place at the headstones and columbarium wall.

Wreaths Across America (WAA), which began in 2010, has a mission to “Remember, Honor and Teach.” Approximately 2.5 million wreaths were placed at more than 3,100 locations in the United States and overseas where military men and women are interred. According to the Nevada Veterans Coalition, more than 8,000 veterans are interred at the state cemetery in Fernley. 

Thomas Meadows, a resident of Truckee, California, who spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy, drove the 65 miles east to Fernley to honor his fellow veterans.

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Richard Roman, a member of the Nevada Veterans Coalition, tilts his head at boxes of wreaths. Image: Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

“It’s very meaningful. We do have a friend over there,” Meadows said, gesturing toward an area past the pavilion. “It’s a matter of honor to the men and women who served our nation … to honor them.”

For Meadows and many of the volunteers who participated in this year’s WAA, they place as much — if not more — reverence for the December event than they do for Memorial Day.

“On Memorial Day, many people think of it as a three-day weekend,” Meadows said before his words shifted back to Wreaths Across America. “More and more people are coming here (to Fernley) to pay honor to someone they have never heard of. Memorial Day is for a specific person.”

Likewise, Ken “Kenny” Smith, commander of Veterans of Foreign War Post 9211 in Reno, served with the Army during Desert Storm 31 years ago. He was first deployed to Saudi Arabia and then into Kuwait to liberate the country from an Iraqi invasion that began in August 1990.

“I have my mother and father buried out here,” he said. “They are buried here where I can place a wreath with them. We are celebrating all the soldiers, sailors, Marines. We get a chance today to lay a wreath down and say Merry Christmas to someone we didn’t know, and we are paying respects to them.”

Darin Farr, a member of the Nevada Veterans Coalition and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said he’s seen a change with the people who attend the ceremony.

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Fallon Sea Cadets Keenan Waller, left, and Trevor Viera represent the Merchant Marines. Image: Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

“The changes are good ones,” he said. “I’ve seen more kids and youth out here today. It’s nice to see the younger generation to become involved with the event and what it means.”

At the Fernley ceremony, he said the Sea Cadets from Fallon and the Fernley High School cheerleaders attended the WAA. 

“The Wreaths Across America was designed originally to remember vets whether they were deployed or not and to remember them at Christmas time” said volunteer Roger Elliott, adding he knew veterans who remained overseas during the holidays. “Many of the vets I knew didn’t have the opportunity to come home at Christmas time. They were in Germany, Vietnam or some other God-forsaken place. This is a time to remember and to teach the youngsters about our history and heritage. We shall never forget.”

Navy Petty Officer First Class Michael Urriza from Naval Air Station Fallon placed a wreath near the NNVMC pavilion to honor his branch of the military. Accompanying him was his 6-year-old son, Kainoa. Urriza, a third-generation veteran from Los Angeles, has been in the Navy for eight years.

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NAS Fallon Petty Officer First Class Michal Urriza and his son, Kainoa, place a wreath at the Navy medallion at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Image: Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

My grandfather was in World War II, my father in Vietnam. It’s definitely an honor of me to honor those who served prior to us,” Urriza said.

According to Urriza, Saturday’s ceremony was also an opportunity to learn a little more about the veterans and wonder what they did during their time of service.

At the far west end of the state cemetery, Margaret Oberg was laying a wreath. Her family had gathered at her father-in-law’s grave, Ozzie Oberg. His wife, Joy, is buried with him.

“We come out as much as we can,” she said.

Ozzie Oberg, who died in 1999, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, was part of a unit that laid lines of communication in Hiroshima after the war. Once Ozzie left the military, she said her father was involved with electrical work.

Behind every veteran is a story. When her father’s unit arrived in Hiroshima, no one knew of the fallout the men would face from the effects of the atomic bomb that was dropped there in August 1945.

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A spruce tree planted in 2000 near the grave of Army veteran Ozzie Oberg towers over a section of the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Image: Steve Ranson / Nevada News Group

“He developed a lot of things in his health that were related to his exposure. They (government) did studies afterward on a lot of men and found their firstborns were stillborn, severely disabled or died within five years,” Oberg recalled.  “My sister died of leukemia at three-and-a-half years old.”

Saturday gave Oberg an opportunity to remember her father and his hesitancy to talk about his service, a common trait among many World War II veterans.

“For his last five years, he really felt the need to be reunited with people of similar backgrounds,” she said.

A year after their father’s death, the family received permission to plant a spruce tree near the gravesite. Now, the tree towers over a number of graves.

“Every year we see how it’s grown,” she added. 

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Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson
Steve Ranson is Editor Emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.

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