Living and deceased veterans honored at wreath, Vietnam events

Saturday’s Wreaths Across America ceremony at Forest Lawn in Pompano Beach ended with a white dove release. Across the nation, volunteers laid wreaths on veteran graves in honor of their service and sacrifice. [Photo by Michael d’Oliveira]

Pompano Beach – Wreaths Across America is meant to honor veterans buried at cemeteries across the nation.

But at the ceremonies held here this past Saturday, living veterans were also honored and acknowledged.

“Thank you for my freedom,” said Courtney Trzcinski with Canine Assisted Therapy Group. She repeated her thank you twice more as she looked out at the veterans who attended the wreaths event at Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens.

John Bridgman of Honor Flight of South Florida, which takes World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans to Washington, D.C., said that many veterans are “no longer forgotten.”

After each wreath is laid, the person laying it is supposed to say the name on the grave out loud as a way to keep their memory alive.

Before the wreaths were placed, Tom and Gena Hoyer released two white doves in honor of their son, Luke, one of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High mass shooting. One dove was also released for each branch of the armed forces.

Army veteran Dave Sweeney salutes one of the veteran graves where he placed a wreath. [Staff photo]

At Forest Lawn, over 1,300 graves were adorned with wreaths. In a letter regarding the wreaths, Forest Lawn event coordinator Claudia Perry said the goal next year is to raise enough money to put wreaths on all 2,000 veterans’ graves.

At Pompano Beach Cemetery, all 721 veterans buried there were honored with a wreath. The event was organized by the Lighthouse Point Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution [DAR].

Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Abiud Montes encouraged veterans to share their stories. He shared his own about serving as a young Marine and being welcomed as a liberator in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He also asked the audience to remember the three victims of the shooting at Naval Air Base Pensacola earlier this month and “the men and women still serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who won’t be home for the holidays.”

One Pompano Beach resident, who declined to give her name, volunteered to lay wreaths but said she’d like more information on how to help veterans.

“I’m a conservative and anything I can do to support the military . . . That’s why I’m here. I’m an American.”

Some examples she gave of organizations that help veterans are the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, tunnel2towers.org, and Wounded Warriors, woundedwarriorproject.org. The latter helps wounded veterans. The former provides mortgage assistance to veterans and first responders.

Army veteran Howard Fox hugs Blake Starr of We Finish Together, the organization that provided the medals. “It brought back very sad memories,” said Fox, who served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1965. [Staff photo]

“Welcome home” for Vietnam veterans

The Vietnam War ended in 1975 but over 70 of the veterans who served in the conflict were recognized and thanked at a special ceremony Sunday.

Held at the Pompano Fire Museum, the ceremony was organized by the Fontenada Chapter DAR.

“You guys made it home and we really want to celebrate you,” said DAR member Paula Fijalowski. Before the ceremony, she said it took the chapter three years to track down all the veterans.

DAR members said they want to hold another ceremony sometime in the future.

As each veteran came up to be recognized, they were greeted with a “welcome home” and presented with a pin, certificate, medal, and a piece of the American flag.

“This [piece of American flag] is for you to put in your wallet to know you’re never forgotten,” said DAR member Marilyn Van Pelt to one of the veterans.

With his eyes welling up, Army veteran Howard Fox hugged Blake Starr of We Finish Together, the organization that provided the medals.

“It brought back very sad memories,” said Fox, who served in Vietnam from 1964 to 1965.

He was also grateful.

“It’s a blessing . . . It’s good to know you’re appreciated.”

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