Each December, Gold Star wife Kathy Hayes honors her late husband by placing a wreath on his grave at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West.

The wreath is part of the Wreaths Across America effort by The Eagles Chapter of Gold Star Wives at Fort Campbell. For the past decade, the local group has raised money to lay a wreath at every grave at the cemetery outside of Hopkinsville.

"I don't want them to be forgotten," Hayes said of her husband and other veterans. "It's a way to honor them. It's beautiful out there with all the wreaths."

Master Sgt. James F. Hayes, 48, died Nov. 6, 2005, in Taji, Iraq. The 22-year Army veteran was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.

"It was his life. (The Army) was his second family," said Hayes, who serves as the Eagles Chapter vice president. "He loved serving. He loved his soldiers."

Program history

The Wreaths Across America project began in 1992 when 5,000 wreaths were laid in remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery. The tradition became Wreaths Across America in 2005.

"Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, our mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,600 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad," according to wreathsacrossamerica.org.

National Wreaths Across America Day is Dec. 14.

Local effort

Since 2010, The Eagles Chapter of the Gold Star Wives has participated in Wreaths Across America.

Hazel Morrison serves as the treasurer for the Eagles Chapter and champions the group's efforts to raise money for the wreaths to be placed at the cemetery on 41A.

This year the Gold Star Wives are hoping to raise funds for 3,200 wreaths. The wreaths are made of fresh balsam fir trees by the Worcester Wreath Company of Maine.

Each wreath is $15. For every two bought, Worcester company provides one for free, resulting in a cost of $10 per wreath.

"Our goal each year is

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to place a wreath on every veteran's grave," Morrison said. "Most of our spouses are buried there, so this project is very dear to our hearts."

Donations go through a 501c3 nonprofit called Kentucky Veterans Cemetery Wreath Trust Inc. To donate, make checks payable to KVC Wreath Trust and mail to Hazel Morrison, 2249 Dunbar Road, Woodlawn, TN 37191. For more information, call her at 931-920-2775.

This year's deadline for donations is Nov. 30.

Morrison said 100% of all monies received go toward purchasing wreaths. If enough donations are raised to purchase enough one year, any leftover funds are applied toward the next.

After donations are collected and the wreaths are ordered, Walmart Distribution Center drivers pick up the wreaths and bring them back to Kentucky.

The ceremony

A wreath-laying ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Dec. 14 at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery-West.

Family members who have loved ones buried at the cemetery may arrive around 10:30 a.m., select a wreath and place it on their loved one's grave. After the ceremony, the remaining wreaths will be placed on the rest of the graves, Morrison said.

Another fundraising effort for the wreaths is the selling of prints by local artist Lynne Griffey. For the past decade, Griffey has painted paintings of different sites at the veterans' cemetery. The prints will be on sale on wreath-laying day.

"Each year I usually have to get more prints made," Morrison said. "I've got every one of them at my house. They are all framed. I have run out of wall space."

At age 80, Morrison said she hopes to keep honoring veterans through Wreaths Across America.

"We can never, never do enough for the veterans," she said. "This is one way we can show them we appreciate their service and their sacrifice. They are not forgotten during the holiday season."

Reach Michele Vowell at 270-887-3242 or mvowell@kentuckynewera.com.

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