Monday December 17, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Participants in a wreath-laying ceremony Saturday at the Vermont Veterans Home paused for a moment of silence following Friday's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

About a dozen veterans and members of local service organizations and the Rolling Thunder motorcycle club joined together at noon sharp to lay the wreaths at the Veterans Home cemetery, just as similar gatherings took place at Arlington National Cemetery and some 750 other locations nationwide as part of Wreaths Across America. The motorcycle club's Vermont chapter president, Joe Young, said Rolling Thunder members enjoyed participating each year, and following the ceremony they would head inside to walk the halls of the Veterans Home and shoot the breeze with residents.

"We come every year. ... The fact that most of us are veterans, you don't have to be a vet to be a member of Rolling Thunder, but most of us are, and it's the fact that these are our brothers and sisters and we don't want them to be forgotten," said Young, speaking to home residents but also motioning behind his back to the rows of marble cemetery markers. "And this is a day to recognize them and thank them very much for what they do and what they've given."

During the ceremony Young and organizer John Laughton accounted the "astonishing price" of American casualties across each armed conflict, including the Civil War with its highest American death toll. As each generation passes "we become the next foundation of brothers," said Young.

Laughton said it was important to continue paying respect to those who had served, and he pointed to the significance of each wreath: One for each branch of military service (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines), one for prisoners of war/those missing in action, and an eighth in memory of a Vets Home resident recently deceased.

Participants from each military branch laid out a wreath while a color guard was provided by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1332.

Members of the Vets Home community have gathered to honor veterans during the holidays as part of the national event for the past decade. It's projected this year's one-day ceremony saw some 150,000 volunteers place over 400,000 wreaths, in all 50 states and at 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil.