Volunteers honor veterans at Lancaster Cemetery as part of Wreaths Across America

LANCASTER, Calif. — The holidays are a time of remembrance, and on a frosty Saturday morning, more than 150 volunteers paid tribute to the area’s veterans interred at Lancaster Cemetery. Fresh wreaths with red velvet ribbons were placed on the graves for the 12th year, as part of Wreaths Across America.

Wreaths Across America is a national organization dedicated to “Remember, Honor and Teach,” by laying holiday wreaths on veterans’ graves the third Saturday each December, at Arlington National Cemetery and “at more than 2,500 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad,” according to their website.

Lynn DuPratt of Quartz Hill Calif., places the first wreath at the gravesite of her friend, Vern Lawson, Sr., a World War II U.S. Army Air Corps veteran during a Wreaths Across America ceremony, Dec. 18, 2021, at Lancaster Cemetery, honoring those who served in the Armed Forces. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

After the flag salute, and a moment of silence, Dayle DeBry, Antelope Valley Cemetery district manager told the 100 or so volunteers: “We are all proud to be Americans who live in a free society made up of many people, from many walks of life. The freedoms we enjoy today have not come with a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout the nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom without fear.”

The first wreath was placed by Lynn DuPratt, in honor of Vern Lawson, managing editor of the Antelope Valley Press for 45 years, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corp during World War II, and died on Oct. 19 of this year. He would have been 96 on Dec. 17.

DeBry asked each volunteer to “say the veteran’s name in remembrance” as they placed the wreath in tribute. Some of those names likely have not been said since last December, as veterans of all wars and conflicts are buried there: six of them who fought in the Civil War, and died from 1900 to 1930.

Each year, DeBry highlights the deeds of a specific veteran, and this year it was PFC Clay Otis Williams of Lancaster, who was posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal for “supreme gallantry” in the taking of Okinawa.

DeBry read from a newspaper account that Williams made eight trips to the front lines to rescue wounded men, under fire from Japanese snipers and riflemen. He died April 27, 1945, performing more acts of bravery in the famed 96th Division “Deadeye” fighting outfit. Williams, son of Maynard Williams, was a veteran of the Philippine Liberation Campaign and a member of Company L, 383rd Regiment.

American Legion Patriot Guard Riders Phillip Waln, left, and Dave Corbin hand out holiday wreaths to be placed on veterans’ graves during the National Wreaths Across America ceremony held Dec. 18, 2021, at Lancaster Cemetery. (Photograph by Evelyn Kristo)

In addition to local and county dignitaries, the American Legion 311/Auxiliary AV Unit 311, Patriot Guard Riders, Blue Star Mothers #14, Daughters of the American Revolution and AV Marine Corps League Det. #930 were on hand for the ceremony.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics sponsored more than 500 wreaths, and at least 33 of their employees were on hand at 7 a.m. to help put-zip ties on the wreath stakes. “Over 25 percent of our workforce across the country are serving or have served in the military,” Claudia Clark, Lockheed Community Relations said. “So many of our employees are involved with these cemeteries and their community.”

Many wreaths were sponsored by Northrop Grumman employees, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Valley View Elementary School, Vets 4 Veterans, and Lancaster Councilman Ken Mann.

To sponsor wreaths or volunteer for next year, contact wreathsacrossamerica.org or https://lancastercemetery.net/#contact

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