FAYETTEVILLE — A veteran himself, Martinsburg resident Jim Lanager does his part to make sure military veterans aren't forgotten.
Last weekend, that mission led Lanager, a truck driver for National Van Lines, and his wife, Kimberly, a school teacher, to jump into the cab of his tractor-trailer and begin delivery of thousands of wreaths to three military gravesites in West Virginia and Pennsylvania as volunteers prepare for National Wreaths Across America Day on Saturday, Dec. 14.
Among the duo's destinations were Fayetteville, where Monday they delivered 702 wreaths to be utilized in a special ceremony at Huse Memorial Park and Mausoleum on Saturday.
Organized by Wreaths Across America, Saturday's one-day event will gather individuals nationwide to lay wreaths at the graves of men and women killed in action.
"National Van Lines is proud to play a role in this monumental event to honor those who served and sacrificed throughout U.S. history,” National Van Lines President and COO Tim Helenthal said in a press release. “We’re grateful one of our finest drivers has answered the call to participate."
On Dec. 7, the Lanagers delivered 5,292 wreaths to the West Virginia National Cemetery in Grafton. On Tuesday, after Fayetteville, they were scheduled to transport 729 wreaths to the Fairview Cemetery in Boyerton, Pa., on the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border.
According to Lanager, a 17-year driver for National Van Lines, participation in the wreath delivery process is "all volunteer." Individuals, businesses or civic organizations are among those who pay to sponsor the wreaths, volunteers fill the boxes, transport companies volunteer their trucks, and the drivers volunteer their time, fuel and effort, he said.
"This is our company's first year (participating in Wreaths Across America), so they chose me to do it since I'm a veteran and I'm from West Virginia," said Lanager, who recently received National Van Lines’ top driver in safety award for 2018-19. "We wanted to do our own state."
Due to his involvement in many veterans projects, Lanager labeled participation in Wreaths Across America "very important" to him. "I want to make sure that veterans aren't forgotten, left behind," he said.
Cathy Bryant, location coordinator for Huse Memorial Park, said this is the first year for the park's participation in the program, which originally began in 1992.
"We have 680 veterans buried at Huse Memorial, and we have a wreath for each one of those," she said. "My husband and I went to Arlington National Cemetery in December 2016 and participated there, and that was our first experience and it was overwhelming."
The wreaths delivered Monday will be stored until time to move them to Huse for the weekend activity. According to Bryant, there will be a special ceremony Saturday at noon at Huse Memorial, which will be followed by the placing of the wreaths. Families can place their veteran's wreath, but there will also be numerous volunteers on hand to assist, Bryant said. "Anyone can come out and place a wreath."
"I am honored to be part of such a remarkable program," said Fayetteville town superintendent Matt Diederich. "I would like to commend Sonya Wood and her team for their efforts on getting all of this accomplished.
"They have worked very hard to ensure that all veterans will be recognized."
Also Saturday, National Van Lines executives, employees and their families will place wreaths at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.
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