As heavy rain falls, Vicki Dill, left, and other volunteers placed wreaths on graves of veterans on in Oak Grove and St. Joseph’s cemeteries in Gardiner during the annual Wreaths Across America event on Dec. 14, 2019. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

On Saturday, in the calm before the final crush of the holidays, volunteers across Kennebec County will spend part of their day laying remembrance wreaths at the graves of veterans and speaking their names.

And this year in West Gardiner, the names of all the 193 veterans buried in the town’s seven cemeteries will be said out loud.

The event is part of Wreaths Across America, which coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies across the country and overseas with the annual ceremony held at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. It is supported by a Maine-based nonprofit organization of the same name.

“This is the first time in four years that we’ll have enough wreaths for all the graves,” Deb Couture said.

Couture is coordinating Saturday’s event for the town in southern Kennebec County. It will start at 8 a.m. with a ceremony at the Town Office at Spears Corner Road, during which wreaths will be laid for each of the service branches, including the newly formed U.S. Space Force.

“We’re doing ours earlier than a lot of others because people want to volunteer at other ceremonies,” Couture said.

From there, volunteers will fan out across West Gardiner to the graves of veterans, some whose service dates back to the Revolutionary War. Couture said they’ll be wearing masks and observing physical distancing rules required by public health directives to prevent spreading COVID-19.

In some communities, a group of seven wreaths will be set up either on the fence of a cemetery or at its gates.

In others, like Gardiner, wreaths will be laid at a number of cemeteries.

James Keenan, a U.S. Army veteran and a member of the Smith-Wiley American Legion Post in Gardiner, said volunteers will lay wreaths at the adjoining Oak Grove and St. Joseph’s cemeteries, located off Plummer Street.

That will follow a brief ceremony at 10 a.m. at the flagpole in the Oak Grove cemetery, Keenan said.

“This year was kind of tough,” Keenan said, “but we understood it would be.”

Even so, he said, nearly 300 wreaths will be laid in Gardiner.

“We’ll be there, rain or shine,” he said.

The Wreaths Across America website lists other events in the region, including those at the Togus National Cemetery on Hallowell Road in Chelsea, where no ceremony is planned but wreath-laying will take place; and at the Maine Veterans Cemetery off Civic Center Drive in Augusta, where due to COVID-19 restrictions, volunteers must register online in advance and will be limited to 100.

In Manchester, the event for the Manchester Forks Cemetery has been canceled this year.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety of our community and are not holding a public Wreaths Across America ceremony at our location this year,” states the notice on Wreaths Across America website. “Please join us next year on December 18th, 2021, to honor and remember our local heroes at our ceremony for National Wreaths Across America Day!”

Couture said thanks to the generosity of donors this year, about half the wreaths for next year have already been paid for.

“I get teary-eyed when I talk about it,” Couture said. “People have been so good.”

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