EXETER — Volunteers gathered at Exeter Cemetery early Saturday, Dec. 15, laying nearly 200 donated wreaths on veterans’ graves. Afterwards a noontime ceremony was held with a special wreath placed and the colors raised for each branch of the military.

Dale Hardy, the former wing commander for the New Hampshire Civil Air Patrol, said they had a higher turnout this year and people were very receptive to the event’s message.

“Remember, we are not here to decorate graves,” he said. “We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful America.”

The ceremony was part of Wreaths Across America Day, meant to remember veterans, honor the fallen, and teach the next generation about their sacrifices. It began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company of Maine donated surplus wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. This was done for several years until a photo in 2005 went viral grabbing national attention with others clamoring to get involved. This year 1.75 million wreaths were laid by more than a million volunteers at more than 1,500 locations nationwide.

Organized by Seacoast Composite Squadron of CAP, it’s Exeter’s fourth year participating in the event. During his speech Hardy shared a quote from President Ronald Reagan on the fragility of freedom.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” said President Reagan. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

In the crowd Saturday were Larry Messner and Peter Olson, two veterans who came out to pay their respects to their brothers and sisters in arms. They said they were touched to see young people from the Boy Scouts and junior members of CAP taking part in the day’s events.

“I thought [the ceremony] was excellent,” he said. “Simple, moving, and very poignant.”

“I loved the quote from Ronald Reagan,” said Olson. “That it only takes one generation of neglect of some of the principles of our country [for them] to begin to erode. And ceremonies like this, to me, are a very important part of keeping that alive.”

Tooking forward to next year, volunteers would like to have more wreaths. The approximately 200 wreaths they had this year were only enough to cover a fraction of veterans’ graves interred at Exeter Cemetery.

“I think next year we ought to have more people donate wreaths,” said Messner. “They were short quite a few this year and i think it’s important that we get a wreath on every veteran’s grave.”

“Amen,” added Olson

Those who wish to donate a wreath for next year can do so at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org