Hundreds of veterans buried at three Warrenton, MO, cemeteries were honored as part of Wreaths Across America ceremonies on December 16, 2023.
Six-and-a-half-year-old Easton Woldanski bent down to lay a wreath of green balsam decorated with a lone red bow on the grave of a veteran at the Warrenton City Cemetery.
When he stood up, wearing his orange and blue Cub Scout hat, his tiny voice boomed with pride.
“Thank you for your service!” he said as he honored the person, long departed from this world, for helping to keep America free.
He then took another wreath to another of the graves in the city cemetery and repeated the process, a process also followed by more than 100 volunteers who came out Dec. 16 to join millions of people at cemeteries across the country as part of this year’s Wreaths Across America events.
Another 40 to 45 people volunteered to do the same at Holy Rosary Catholic Church Cemetery, and even more people volunteered at Lippstadt Cemetery.
Easton said he came out on a cold and rainy Saturday because he wanted to honor veterans. He was just one of multiple young people who took part in ensuring the legacies of those who served will continue to be celebrated and remembered.
“Isn’t it great?” asked Andrea Romaker, the Wreaths Across America coordinator for both the Warrenton and Holy Rosary cemeteries. “I’m so glad we got to get the kids involved more and more.”
It’s fitting to see the kids participating because the more than 600 veterans being honored at the three Warrenton cemeteries only got their wreaths because of the tragic death of Romaker’s own child.
Tyler Andrew Romaker was only 22 when he was killed in a traffic accident on Sept. 2, 2016, in Columbia on the campus of the University of Missouri.
Tyler, who was a U.S. Army ROTC cadet deployed three times, was in his final semester at MU, and was excited to become a commissioned officer and join his brother, Ryan, in the military.
Instead, he was commissioned at the funeral home and buried with full military honors at Holy Rosary cemetery.
That following Christmas season, Andrea Romaker brought one of the green balsam wreaths with a red bow to place on Tyler’s grave.
She had been helping place wreaths at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery, so she was familiar with Wreaths Across America.
So she was surprised when, as she placed the wreath to honor her son, she saw no other wreaths in the cemetery.
“I’m like, ‘wow, surely there are veterans here,’” she said. “So then my husband, Roger, and I drove over to the city of Warrenton Cemetery and we drove through that cemetery and there was not a wreath there. So then I knew that Wreaths Across America is not out here.”
So she took it upon herself to bring the program here.
She began by asking for donations outside the church, and the very next year, veterans buried at Holy Rosary were recognized.
That’s when she was approached to take on the job of providing a wreath for the veterans buried in the Warrenton City Cemetery.
The community rallied around the project, donating enough money to ensure no one forgets the legacy of those who served.
“Our community, they love our veterans,” she said. “We have a patriotic community here and they take care of their veterans.”
But the community couldn’t take care of its veterans without Andrea Romaker’s coordination and fundraising and, most importantly, how she responded to the loss of her child.
“I go see Tyler every day just about and I looked at Tyler’s grave and I said, ‘buddy, there are so many veterans that are being honored in just a few days because of you.’”
The Dec. 16 ceremonies at the three Warrenton cemeteries all began at 11 a.m. as part of the nationwide tribute.
At the Warrenton City Cemetery, it was Mayor Eric Schlueter who led the ceremony, and Alderman Larry Corder helped instruct the volunteers made up of individuals from the Warrenton Fire Protection District, Missouri Highway Patrol, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, veterans, and more, on how to find the headstones of each veteran to be honored before going to lay a wreath himself.
The ceremony featured speeches, a three-gun volley, and echo Taps.
And before individual veterans were honored, wreaths were placed in honor of each branch of the armed forces. The individual who laid the wreath placed it for their particular branch – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Space Force, along with a wreath to honor all of America’s prisoners of war and missing in action – and then either saluted the wreath or placed their hand over their heart in respect.
One of those individuals was McKenna Jones, who placed the wreath in honor of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“This morning, I showed up and they were talking with me a little bit and I made the comment that both my grandfathers were veterans and they said ‘would you like to lay a wreath in honor of that?’ I spoke and said ‘yeah, that’s great.’”
It was a special moment for her.
“It made me feel honored and pride because they gave so much for us that this is just a minute thing we can do for them to honor them, and it made me really think about everything they’ve done for us,” she said. “This is just an absolute honor.”
One hundred ten. That was the unofficial count of volunteers at the Warrenton City Cemetery.
“I was honestly tremendously moved by the turnout,” Schlueter said. “By the time I first got here, it didn’t look like there were that many, and they just started pouring in.”
But Schlueter, a Marine veteran himself, wasn’t surprised. He knows how much Warrenton appreciates those who served.
“We cling tight to tradition,” he said. “When I say that, people look at it differently than I do. Tradition is you pass that dedication down to your family. I still hear in coffee shops it’ll be great uncle so-and-so who served their country faithfully and did this and did that, and that’s huge. And when other people hear that, it fosters that pride.”
That pride was on display one week earlier, too, on Dec. 9 when the semi carrying the more than 600 wreaths needed arrived in Warren County.
The truck was met by a procession of vehicles from a number of Warrenton and Warren County agencies – the sheriff, police, fire protection district, and ambulance district all joined in, along with the mayor and other residents.
They met the truck at the westbound rest area on Interstate 70 in Wright City, and led it the rest of the way into the city.
And along the route, a number of people gathered to cheer on the truck and the procession as it made its way to the Holy Rosary parish center to unload.
This was the fourth year for the procession, Andrea Romaker said.
“This year we had the largest police, sheriff and mayor presence than we’ve ever had,” she said. “We’ve never had that many and it was good to see that they all came out to support the veterans.”
She calls it a Warrenton hometown welcome.
“Our trucker, our driver, he goes to several other places and they request Warrenton because of the support that we have here,” she said.
Unloading the truck brought out scores of volunteers, including a number of kids from local Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, and 4-H organizations.
And as much as Andrea Romaker loves to honor veterans, she also understands there’s a bigger message in the program.
“The whole thing with Wreaths Across America is to remember, honor and teach,” she said. “Well, teaching is about the young people and to bring these young kids up because they are our future.”
Back at the Warrenton City Cemetery, 6 1/2-year-old Easton Woldanski was among the kids showing how secure the future is.
As he laid another of the green balsam wreaths, he stood again and let his tiny voice boom one more time.
“Thank you for your service!” he said.
About the author: Jason Koch is the editor of The Warren County Record, and covers local news and government for the newspaper. He has won multiple awards from both the Indiana and Illinois APME and from the Illinois Press Association. He can be reached at 636-456-6397 or at email@example.com