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Civil Air Patrol: Wreaths placed in honor for local veterans

Cadet Airman Chris Madsen with the Civil Air Patrol Northland Composite Squadron salutes Keith Benson, a U.S. Air Force veteran who died in 2006. Madsen hung the wreath at Benson's gravesite Saturday following the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony Saturday at Greenwood Cemetery. Pioneer Photo/Bethany Wesley

Remember, honor and teach. That is the mission of Wreaths Across America, an annual ceremony that features the Civil Air Patrol as members hang wreaths in honor of veterans.

The CAP's Northland Composite Squadron on Saturday marked its second annual participation in Wreaths Across America ceremony, held in conjunction with the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and cemeteries around the world.

Wreaths were hung at Greenwood Cemetery in honor of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, Public Health and law enforcement. They also were in honor of prisoners of war, those missing in action and those killed in action.

Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene led the program.

"The freedoms we enjoy today have come without a price," he said.

The ceremony features the laying of eight wreaths were placed at the base of the flagpole at Greenwood Cemetery. It concluded with the playing of "Taps."

"The wreaths represent our commitment ... to remember the fallen," Vene said.

He stressed the importance of America's freedom and the sacrifices U.S. servicemen and women have made in support and defense of that freedom.

"We have the right to succeed, and we have the right to fail at whatever endeavors we wish to pursue," Vene said.

He also quoted former President Ronald Reagan:

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

Following the ceremony, CAP cadets walked out to individual gravesites, hung wreaths and saluted.

Vene encouraged members of the public to remember those who have died by walking around a cemetery and taking note of past veterans.

Research their names, he said.

"You will find they were real Americans with families -mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sister, aunts and uncles," he said. "They were and are more than a statistic."

Capt. Robin Helgager, with the CAP Northland Composite Squadron, said following the ceremony that the mission of the Wreaths Across America - remember, honor and teach -fits in with the core values of the CAP: integrity, volunteer services, excellence and respect.

"They're never too many things we can do to honor our veterans," she said. "We felt we could bring this (Wreaths Across America) to our community - and it's been well received."

Many of those gathered for the ceremony thanked Helgager and CAP cadets for the remembrance.

The wreaths - which were sent from the same batch also sent to Arlington - are purchased by area residents and then hung, or placed, by cadets on individual graves.

Jean Williams, the manager of Greenwood Cemetery, also plays a key role in the success of Wreaths Across America. She works to help coordinate the event and researches all ordered wreaths to develop maps for cadets to find the graves.

Bemidji's Wreaths Across America event is the result of a successful collaboration between the CAP, Greenwood Cemetery, veterans, law enforcement and the community, Helgager said.

Helgager said the ceremony on Saturday was just the beginning.

"Wreaths Across America is just starting - it doesn't end today," she said.

People driving by the cemetery will see the wreaths, think of veterans and remember then, she said.

"Our country pays a price for its freedom," Helgager said.