AUGUSTA — Hundreds of Mainers fanned out on Saturday morning across veterans’ cemeteries in and around Augusta, some of them with shovels to excavate the headstones buried under crusty billows of snow.

At each grave, they left a single evergreen wreath decorated with a bow, then took a moment to remember the person whose remains were resting there.

William Deetjen, of Camden, went to the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery off Civic Center Drive with his family and left wreaths for his grandparents, all of whom are buried there.

Both of Deetjen’s grandfathers were veterans who served in Europe — one in the U.S. Navy during World War I and the other in the U.S. Army during World War II. After some digging in one section of cemetery, he finally found one of the pairs of headstones.

“It’s about paying homage to them,” Deetjen said. “They were both great guys.”

Deetjen timed his visit Saturday morning to coincide with a stop by Wreaths Across America, a national organization that honors veterans by delivering wreaths from Maine to cemeteries across the country.

Last week, a convoy departed from Washington County and traveled to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where more than 200,000 wreaths were placed on Saturday morning.

Also on Saturday, wreaths were delivered to other cemeteries around the country, including about 2,400 to the cemetery on Civic Center Drive in Augusta. Earlier Saturday, wreaths were left at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Mount Vernon Road. Later, the local deliveries concluded at Togus National Cemetery in Chelsea.

“(Honoring veterans) matters,” said Lori Munson, of Wiscasset, a family friend who went to the event with Deetjen and saw the convoy of wreaths on its way to Arlington last week, as it passed through her town. “I think some people take (their service) for granted.”

Carl Perry, a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, organized the deliveries around Augusta. Before volunteers got to work at the Civic Center Drive cemetery, he stood on the back of a tractor-trailer containing the boxes of wreaths, which are made by Worcester Wreath Co. in the Down East town of Harrington.

The freedom of Americans “is paid for by the blood of the men and women who are buried here,” Perry said to the volunteers, who wore hats, gloves and, in some cases, vests covered in the patches for different groups in the veterans community. “The wreath-laying part isn’t a race. Make sure the ribbon is straightened out. If you’re a veteran, give a salute. If (you’re a civilian), put your hand over your heart and say ‘thank you.’ That’s what it’s about. It’s not just to make the cemetery look pretty and green.”

Perry asked volunteers to return to cemetery on Saturday, Jan. 6 — or if the weather is bad that day, a week later, on Jan. 13 — to clean up the wreaths. Dumpsters will be placed there on the cleanup day, he said.

While wreaths often are associated with Christmas, Perry said, the ones left at the cemetery are not tied to a particular set of religious beliefs.

Individuals and groups pay to have wreaths delivered to cemeteries here and across the country. Among the sponsors this year was John McCutcheon, of Fairfield, a U.S. Navy veteran who served on submarines in the Pacific Ocean from 1959 to 1971. He worked primarily as a electrician but was trained in many other skills.

“You have to be capable of doing anything,” he recalled of his service, which took him to the Vietnam War. “I did every job except firing torpedoes and being captain.”

McCutcheon also has donated his time. For more than a decade, he has volunteered for the annual deliveries of Wreaths Across America, and he even drove wreaths in the convoy to Arlington several years ago. He was deeply moved by the experience and still remembers his task when he got there: laying a wreath at grave 6 in section A, row 6006, then saluting the man buried there.

“It’s showing respect for the people who served before us, with us and after us,” he said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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