Every year around Christmastime, despite cold or snow, dozens of volunteers gather at two Warrenton cemeteries to lay hundreds of wreaths at the graves of military veterans and express gratitude for …
Every year around Christmastime, despite cold or snow, dozens of volunteers gather at two Warrenton cemeteries to lay hundreds of wreaths at the graves of military veterans and express gratitude for their service. As these volunteers read aloud the names of veterans, the oldest of whom served in the American Civil War, they give voice and memory to legacies of selfless service.
This annual practice of honoring departed service members was brought to Warrenton thanks to local volunteer Andrea Romaker, who has now been recognized as a Hidden Hero.
Romaker is the Warrenton-area coordinator for Wreaths Across America, a nationwide program dedicated to remembering and teaching about the service of deceased veterans. Thanks to Romaker’s coordination efforts, over 550 wreaths have been placed at the graves of veterans at the Warrenton City Cemetery and Holy Rosary Cemetery every year for half a decade.
Seeing volunteers come to the cemeteries to show that military service is valued, to hear the names of veterans given life through the voices of those who remember them, has been a heartfelt endeavor for Romaker, who is the mother of two veterans, including one buried at the Holy Rosary Cemetery.
“It is the most amazing, rewarding feeling you could ever have,” she explained. “As a grieving mom ... just to have that little feeling of, ‘Mom, you did good,’ that validation.”
Romaker’s involvement with Wreaths Across America began in 2015. She volunteered with a group of military moms called Blue Star Mothers to place wreaths at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. In a tragic development, Romaker’s son, Tyler, died in a vehicle accident the next year, and it was his grave she was bringing a wreath to at Christmastime.
But when Romaker came to the Holy Rosary Cemetery in 2016, she saw that the rest of the cemetery was empty of other wreaths for veterans. So she and her husband, Roger, organized members of their church to do the wreath-laying event for about 100 graves in 2017, and the effort grew from there.
Although the wreath laying event only happens once per year — this year it’s on Dec. 17 — making the event possible is a 12-month endeavor. That’s because every wreath costs $15, and local volunteers have to fundraise for every penny to purchase them. Romaker said she’s grateful to every veterans group, church group, and community member who has signed on with her to help make that mission possible every year.
“This is their way that they give back to our veterans. ... A lot of people bring their grandchildren, their children, just to remind them what our veterans have done for the freedoms that we have,” Romaker said.
Even in advance of the wreath laying, groups of volunteers spend days with Romaker at the cemeteries flagging graves where wreaths will be laid. She can also be found at a dozen fundraising days throughout the year, but otherwise avoids drawing attention to herself.
“I like being in the background,” she commented.
For information about volunteering with or supporting Wreaths Across America, contact Romaker at firstname.lastname@example.org or 636-456-4658.