Volunteers invited to remove wreaths at North Dakota Veterans Cemetery

Kathy Howe, of Bismarck, was among the volunteers at the annual Wreaths Across America event at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery south of Mandan on Dec. 16, 2017.

Volunteers are welcome to help remove wreaths from the 6,900 headstones at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery.

Wreaths were laid at every grave on Dec. 14 as part of Wreaths Across America, an effort spearheaded by a Maine-based national organization to remember fallen military veterans by laying sponsored wreaths on their graves during the holiday season.

The Bismarck Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol organizes the annual event and plans for every third weekend in January to remove the wreaths, in accordance with national cemetery rules for removing them by the first weekend in February.

Just like the December ceremony, participation often is driven by the weather, said Lt. Col. Kevin Iverson, who has helped organize the event since 2009.

“If you get a really cold weekend, you don’t get as much help,” he said. “If it’s a really nice weekend, everybody wants to get outside, and that’s an opportunity to get some exercise.”

The removal of wreaths begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the cemetery south of Mandan. It was delayed from Jan. 18 due to a frigid forecast. Iverson said the squadron will rent some trash bins in which to dispose of the wreaths.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “There’s no real rocket science to this.”

Clearing the wreaths takes about 90 minutes, he said, though it has taken as little as 25 minutes on a good day.

Years ago, before volunteers began to help the squadron, clearing the wreaths could take hours.

More than 1,200 people came out to the cemetery for the Dec. 14 ceremony, Iverson said. He commended the public support, especially given the day’s subzero temperatures.

Cemetery Director Pam Helbling-Schafer said volunteers placed the wreaths that day in 20 minutes. She said volunteers are welcome later this year to help place flags at the cemetery’s headstones for the May 25 Memorial Day program, and later remove them.

“We appreciate the continuous support that we do receive from the public and volunteers,” she said.

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