Veterans honored with Wreaths Across America

12/13/2009 12:00 AM

12/13/2009 1:18 AM

Pat Danielson placed a wreath at her late husband's grave Saturday afternoon and stepped back to take a photo, capturing the green wreath, red bow and white tombstone.

William Danielson earned a Bronze Star serving in the infantry in World War II. He died two years ago.

"I sure do miss him. He was one of a kind," said Danielson, of Irmo. "All those World War II guys were tough birds. ... This is such a special day."

On Saturday, a few hundred people assembled at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery to pay tribute to those who served the country in the military. As part of the Wreaths Across America program, a wreath was placed at every grave. At the new Fort Jackson cemetery, that's almost 350 wreaths.

The ceremony was repeated at noon at military graves in national and state cemeteries across the country.

On a cold, gray day, a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," color guards represented all branches of the armed forces, cannons offered a 21-gun salute, jets from the McEntire Joint National Guard Base flew overhead and family members and other volunteers picked up wreaths to place against each tombstone.

Dianne Tapley placed a wreath at the grave of her husband, George M. Tapley, who died in April after 50 years of marriage.

They met in college at S.C. State before he joined the Army. He came home disabled from Vietnam.

"He was sick 40 years after that. But he was the love of my life," she said.

"I'm so proud of him," Tapley said. "I want him to know he's loved not just by us but by a lot of people."

Nearby, Ruppert Baird was getting ready to place a wreath at his father's grave.

"I'm here to honor my dad. He spent two years in Vietnam as a medic," said Baird, a member of the S.C. Army National Guard. His father died just before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Our whole family's military. My mother was a WAC. I just went over 27 years," Baird said. "My brother ... is in the reserves at Fort Jackson."

Fabian and Gina Murillo attended with their three children, Joseph, 12, Mackenzie, 7, and 17-month-old Kristian, who snuggled in the warmth of his father's arms.

Their military background brought them out.

"I'm a soldier, and she's a Navy brat," said Fabian Murillo, who has spent 14 years in the Army, including two tours in Iraq.

The Murillos thought it was important for their children to understand the sacrifices of the military.

Valerie Morris was there as part of the Heart of Columbia chorus, a women's a cappella group that sang the national anthem. The group became involved with Wreaths Across America because so many of the group's 50 members have friends and family involved in the service.

Morris' son, David Bain, is stationed with the Army at Fort Bliss, Texas, and has served in Iraq.

"He'll be home Dec. 20 for Christmas," she said. "I wish he could be here now to see this."

Organizer Carol Davis said she was happy with the first-time event in Columbia.

"I'm thrilled with the turnout and thrilled with the participation for our first one," she said. "We'll probably have two times as many next year."

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