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Honoring heroes for the holidays

Wreaths for Biloxi National Cemetery upholds tradition of decorating Veterans' graves

Walk through Biloxi National Cemetery in December, and you can’t help but be moved by the sight of festive Christmas wreaths adorning thousands of graves.

Julia Richardson, Harrison County Veterans Service officer, is on a mission to ensure that all the veterans and their loved ones interred at the cemetery are remembered and honored. In 2012, when she placed a wreath in honor of her dad, retired U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Richard K. Calaway, she developed a desire to do more.

“(I) was upset to see that maybe only 30 graves had been covered,” Richardson recalls. “I wanted to see all the graves covered, and the rest is history.”

Richardson previously had worked with Chad Riemann and the team at Riemann Family Funeral Home on projects benefitting local veterans, along with Kevin Cuttill of Crusaders for Veterans. Through their continued collaboration, Wreaths for Biloxi National Cemetery was born.

“I guess the words that best describe this team are honor, which is what the Riemann Family Funeral Home is all about when it comes to our veterans, and respect, because Crusaders for Veterans has a deep admiration for and believes in the traditions of the military,” Richardson says. “And last but not least, loyalty, and that’s where I’m at. I’m loyal to the men and women who have served this great country of ours.”

On a cold, rainy December day in 2013, the nonprofit made significant strides toward Richardson’s goal of covering every grave.

“We had about 1,300 wreaths with about 300 volunteers,” she says. “The fact it was Pearl Harbor Day made it that much more special.”

The tradition has continued to grow, and this year, the nonprofit plans to cover 27,000 graves.

Volunteers are essential to making the effort a success, and they are needed to place and replace bows and unload the wreaths prior to the annual wreath-laying ceremony on Dec. 3.

“We need as many people as possible,” Richardson says. “It’s hard to say how many we will have this year, but after it’s all said and done, we always have a nice turnout.”

What began as a one-day event has become a three-day affair involving delivery, unloading, and preparing the artificial wreaths. According to Richardson, some families do not live locally but make a point of attending the ceremony. She fondly remembers one veteran who told her his best buddy was buried at the cemetery and how grateful he was to be a part of such a special tribute.

The following year, he passed, too, and Richardson found herself placing a wreath on his grave.

“For me, it’s a day that truly speaks of honor, respect and loyalty; it’s a day that we share with community and family,” she says. “It’s a day that I am forever grateful that I am an American and to know that each one of those men and women served to protect us, that they loved their country, and they were ready to boldly support and defend it. Our reward is freedom, thanks to them.”



It takes all year to fundraise for the purchase of new wreaths and bows, and it takes several days prior to the event to unload and prep the wreaths, which requires many volunteers. Help is needed on Dec. 1 and 2, and the ceremony will take place starting at 11 a.m. on Dec. 3 at Biloxi National Cemetery. Volunteers also are needed to pick up the wreaths on the first Saturday of the new year, which is Jan. 7.

Richardson says as a general rule, the cost per wreath is $10, but any donation helps.

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