NEW BERN, Craven County - New Bern is home to the largest national cemetery in our state. Dozens of veterans in our area have a goal this year, to put a wreath on each of the more than 7,000 headstones that rest there.
You might not head to the Farmers Market in New Bern in search of a basket full of patriotism. But most Saturdays, you'll find it here, wedged between the handmade crafts and the locally-grown sweet potatoes. A group of veterans are there each week with a mission to make sure every headstone has a wreath when Christmas arrives.
"Our goal is to sell one wreath for every headstone in New Bern National Cemetery," said Ken Dempsey, of Wreaths Across America.
That's 7,517 headstones that rest in ordered lines just off National Avenue in New Bern. Part of Dempsey's drive to pay respect to these veterans comes from the lack of doing his service. When he got out of the Navy in 1974, patriotism wasn't abundant.
"I was told not to wear my uniform, the country wasn't thankful, let's put it that way, for the military like it is today," Dempsey said.
Some 40 years later, you could say Dempsey and other veterans are finding that gratitude growing here. That's why they are on a mission to make sure it continues growing for years to come.
"Respect the fallen and we want to teach the young people about freedom because freedom is not free," Dempsey said.
The group invites anyone, especially children, to come lay a wreath fo the fallen on Dec. 16. Wilma Stilley plans to be there with her grandsons. She said she has a strong patriotic family, including her father, a World War II Army veteran who now rests in the New Bern cemetery.
"To instill the patriotism in them because I think that's what our children need these days to grow up that way," Stilley said about having her grandsons participate.
"We can't forget them, it's very important not to forget them because this is what our nation was founded on, all these servicemen who died and fought for our country."
If you want to help, wreaths are $15 each. Of that money, $10 goes to buy the wreath and $5 goes to the veterans assistance program of the American Legion Post 539 in New Bern."
You can also donate a wreath through Wreaths Across America by clicking here.