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Cemetery honors deceased vets with wreathes

Representing the U.S. Marine Corps, veteran Vern Massingill salutes the wreath he laid to honor those who served and continue to serve in that branch of the Armed Forces. Massingill fought in Vietnam where he earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
December 16, 2009 - Beneath a soft blanket of snow they peacefully slumbered in Oxford's Ridgelawn Memorial Cemetery as a shivering crowd of about 60 people gathered there Saturday to lay Christmas wreaths by their graves and remember their sacrifices.

"Today, each of us is privileged and free to come here and be the hands of Oxford," said village President Teri Stiles as she welcomed civilians and veterans alike who showed up "to honor those before us who fought for our dreams, our homes and our futures."

The 126 veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who permanently reside at the W. Burdick St. cemetery were venerated during a "Wreaths Across America" ceremony, part of a national day of recognition established by Congress last year.

These veterans' eternal rest is well-deserved for during this life they did their best, often in times when men were called upon to do their worst to each other.

They endured the pain of leaving their homes and loved ones behind. They endured the anguish of seeing their comrades killed and wounded. They endured the internal conflict all moral men feel when asked to kill, even for a just cause.

Now, their struggles are over, but the legacy they leave behind lives on everyday as Americans continue to exercise their inalienable rights and pursue their boundless dreams.

"The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price," said Bill Service, commander of Oxford American Legion Post 108. "Lying here before us in this cemetery are men and women who gave their lives so that we could live in freedom and without fear."

After wreaths were placed by 30 snow-covered graves throughout the private cemetery, a ceremony was held around the flagpole during which wreaths were laid in honor of all those who served in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines.

A seventh wreath was laid by Oxford resident and Vietnam veteran Keith Acheson to honor the 93,852 servicemen and women whose last known status was either Prisoner of War or Missing in Action.

"We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we shall not forget you. We shall remember," Service said.

Service asked the crowd "to remember that we are one nation with one flag."

"We're all proud to be Americans that live in a free society made up of many people, many races, from many walks of life," he said.

He called upon the crowd to remember the freedoms we enjoy were secured by veterans, from choosing and practicing our choice of religions to voting for our representatives in government.

"We answer to no one but our own feelings," Service said. "We have the right to succeed and we have the right to fail in whatever endeavor we wish to pursue."

Even small freedoms, such as going wherever we want whenever we want, must not be taken for granted.

"We can travel from one end of this great nation to the other and not have to ask permission to go," Service said.

It's the sacrifices that veterans have made and active duty servicepeople continue to make on a daily basis that "keep our country safe from (the) terrorism, hatred and injustice that plague the world community."

"When you see a veteran or an active duty member of the Armed Services, take a moment to say thank you. We owe them our way of life," Service said.

Following the wreath-laying ceremony and just prior to the solemn playing of "Taps," members of the crowd called out the name and service branch of the veteran or veterans they recognized that day.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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