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12-14-08, 06:21 AM
Honoring the fallen
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December 13, 2008 - 7:33 PM

It was a time of remembrance and of celebration.

Family, friends and veterans gathered at Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery on Saturday to witness a wreath-laying ceremony as part of the annual Wreaths Across America event, which honors fallen service members.

Wreaths Across America began more than 15 years ago when Worcester Wreath Company in Maine started a tradition of placing wreaths on the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. Saturday marked the fourth wreath-laying ceremony at Coastal Carolina State Veterans Cemetery.

During the ceremony, seven wreaths were dedicated to fallen service members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and the 96,000 service members whose last known status was MIA or POW.

Sen. Harry Brown, R-N.C., spoke at the ceremony and said Onslow County is unique because residents have an "understanding of what freedom is all about ... because we see it every day."

Brown said that while the ceremony was meant to honor the fallen, it should also be a time to celebrate them.

"It's a celebration for so many that gave," he said.

Debra Fain attended the ceremony for the first time, along with her sister-in-law, Katherine Smith-Sykes. Fain's husband, a Vietnam veteran, is buried at the cemetery.

"My husband passed away two and a half years ago and I haven't been in the mood to do anything," she said. "I decided I wanted to come to this (ceremony) ... I thought it was great, there's no words to describe how it was, how heartwarming and how beautiful it was at the same time. I won't miss it again."

Smith-Sykes, who was visiting from New York, said she enjoyed the ceremony as well.

"I loved it, I really did - very inspiring," she said.

Jane Galligan lost her husband, a Marine veteran, in September and was also a first-time attendee of the ceremony.

"I think it was very nice, I would like to see a lot more participation from local people," she said. "I never knew about it ‘til this year."

Members of the Rolling Thunder motorcycle club and the Patriot Guard Riders also attended the ceremony to pay homage to the fallen heroes.

"It's important for the Patriot Guard ... to honor our soldiers," said Debbie Hockaday, member of the Patriot Guard. "Both the warriors that are fighting now and the ones that have given their lives - the ultimate sacrifice."

Contact Jacksonville/Onslow government reporter Molly DeWitt at 910-219-8455 or mdewitt@freedomenc.com.