LOS BANOS — A national nonprofit aims to remember dead veterans this weekend.
Since 2007, Wreaths Across America has honored veterans buried in San Joaquin National Cemetery in Santa Nella with a wreath made of evergreen and sporting a velvet red bow.
The ceremony starts at 9 a.m. today at the national cemetery, 32053 W. McCabe Road in Santa Nella.
This year, however, the nonprofit does not have enough ornaments to decorate each of the 35,000 veterans and spouses buried at Santa Nella.
Gaylene Ramos, assistant coordinator for the local effort, is on a mission that is twofold: get people to attend the ceremony this year, and make sure there are enough wreaths for every grave next year.
"We're trying to educate the local ones who have family there that the ceremony is going on," Ramos said.
The ceremony averaged 100 attendees in its first five years, Ramos said.
Ramos, whose husband and son are veterans of Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom, respectively, said she expects speakers, poems, letters and a flyover by a Blackhawk helicopter to accompany the national anthem during the hourlong ceremony.
The seven memorials honoring the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines as well as prisoners of war and those missing in action also receive wreaths.
The Santa Nella ceremony attracts Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts from around Merced County. The cemetery holds the remains of soldiers from across the county, the Bay Area, Fresno, Sacramento and all over the state.
Wreaths Across America places the Christmas decoration on graves in all 50 states, including 24 national cemeteries. The effort began more than 20 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery.
The wreaths are $15 each and decorate the graves for about a month. To become a wreath sponsor, call Julia Nilos at (562) 706-5592.
"These men sacrificed so much for us," Ramos said. "We remember them and their families at this time."
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.