DIXON — For the holiday season, thousands came together to honor those memorialized at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery.
With blue skies overhead, a morning wreath-laying ceremony paid tribute to the dead service members and spouses represented on the hallowed ground in Dixon.
While the Travis Air Force Base brass band played “America the Beautiful,” retired veterans and honor guards presented a wreath for each branch of the military, and Boy Scouts from Troop No. 633 honored the 94,000 service members declared missing in action or a prisoner of war.
“(The ceremony) represents the commitment of the United States of America to remember the fallen,” said mistress of ceremonies Susan Busenius, of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Anne Loucks Chapter.
Dignitaries in attendance included Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, who had presented a wreath on the steps of the state Capitol in a similar ceremony Monday.
“I like to think of it as being of something larger than ourselves, which is what military veterans mean to me,” Yamada said after the ceremony.
“It’s a somber feeling, and it’s always a really special feeling for being an American,” she said.
The Wreaths Across America Ceremony coincided with similar wreath-laying events nationwide. The local event started at 9 a.m. and concluded with a rifle salute by the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery Honor Guard and taps by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Matthew Garza. After the benediction, families and volunteers placed wreaths on every headstone at the cemetery.
“This is one of three ceremonies (in the U.S.) that covers all of the graves,” said Busenius after the ceremony.
Several thousand people are memorialized at a gravesite or in the columbariums at the cemetery located at 5810 Midway Road. A cemetery representative during the ceremony said 10,500 wreaths were donated this year. Earlier reports said the goal was about 12,500.
“It takes a lot of people to pull it all together,” said Judith Onopchenko, first vice regent of the NSDAR, Anne Loucks Chapter.
Fairfield High School senior Karl Quitano said his group of 10 Junior ROTC cadets decided to join the effort Friday.
“We’re lucky to have a lot of dedicated cadets this year – even though it was last minute, literally yesterday – laying wreaths and helping out the cemetery.
“We honor the veterans and everyone that served our country, and in doing so, we honor our country,” he said.
The Wreath Project started placing wreaths at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery seven years ago when there were only about 300 gravesites.
Busenius, whose NSDAR chapter co-sponsored the event, estimated several thousand attended Saturday’s wreath-laying ceremony.
“First ceremony was a couple of hundred,” she said. “Now we have 3,000 people.”
Fairfield resident Tamara Jones, events and gifting chair for the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery Support Committee, said the place was full of dirt when her mother was buried seven years ago.
“We were in the mud,” she said.
Her mother, Deborah Jones, a Navy wife, was the second person to be buried at the cemetery, which now memorializes 17,000 service members and spouses.
“It’s like she’s always protected. She’s never going to be by herself,” said Jones, who burst into tears.
“Who else comes out to do this, veterans and their families,” she said.
“This is the tribute, this is the right thing,” she said.