Wreaths to remember

Military service honored at Wreaths Across America ceremony at IVH

Iowa Veterans Home resident Joe Sims prepares to place a wreath before the flag of the U.S. Coast Guard. Also honored during Saturday’s Wreaths Across America program at the IVH were the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, merchant mariners, prisoners of war (POWs) and service members missing in action (MIA).

“Today, we’re remembering all of our heroes: the ones in uniform and the ones who were at home praying everyday for the their children, that they’d come home safely.”

Patriot Guard Riders of Iowa state chaplain Ray Needham was one speaker at Saturday morning’s Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Iowa Veterans Home, where several residents placed wreaths before the flags of various service branches to honor the lives and sacrifice of those who have served.

Love and loss were among the themes at the event, which the Patriot Guard Riders have organized at the IVH for 10 years.

“It was an honor, it’s an honor and privilege,” said U.S. Navy Vietnam veteran and IVH resident Tom Pilkington of laying a wreath before the Navy flag.

Other branches and service members honored were the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Merchant Marines, prisoners of war (POWs) and those who went missing in action (MIA).

Needham shared his presentation titled “The Power of Love,” and spoke of family and sacrifice. He told the story of Al Schmitt, a Navy chaplain on the USS Oklahoma who was killed during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

“I’m reminded of a young man from Iowa, from St. Lucas … his name was Al Schmitt,” Needham said. “He was at a prayer service at that time, and he and a number of men made it into a compartment where there was one port hole, and he assisted these men in getting through the port hole.”

When it came his turn to squeeze through the port hole, he said Schmitt couldn’t quite make it through. Then, he heard others behind him.

“All the sudden, he heard the sound of other people behind him and so he told them ‘Push me back in,'” Needham said, his voice breaking. “I think that was a display of love that was beyond imagination for many people, because it was certain death.”

Another speaker, Patriot Guard Riders State Captain Steve Cox, told the story of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, a Nazi German offensive against Allied forces in northwest Europe. He said American valor, as well as a shortage of fuels for the Germans, helped win the battle.

Cox also spoke about the loneliness experienced by many combat veterans. Quoting from an article by Gulf War veteran Ray Starmann titled “The Solitary World of a Vet,” he spoke about how many veterans feel that non-veterans don’t understand or don’t care about their experiences.

IVH Commandant Timon Oujiri said the Wreaths Across America program is a highly anticipated event.

“Each December, we look forward to the Christmas season and all the delightful things that it brings,” he said. “The Wreaths Across America Program is, in many ways, to celebrate the holiday season here at IVH.”

Wreaths Across America is held nationwide with the goals of remembering fallen U.S. Veterans, honoring service members and educating children on freedom, according to the organization’s website.

For more information, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com