SUFFOLK, Va. - A 13-year holiday tradition returned to a veterans cemetery in Suffolk Saturday, honoring those who gave everything for their country with live wreaths on their graves.
“The tears that may come right now aren’t tears of sadness. They’re tears of gratitude," said Patricia Coker-Bell, a local veteran. "When we're asleep at night, somebody else is up standing on the walls to protect us."
Coker-Bell said many of her family members are buried at the Horton Memorial Veterans Cemetery, including her sister, Gloria.
"Gloria was the first one to serve in the military. She served in the United States Army as a nurse," Coker-Bell said.
Coker-Bell and her other sister honored Gloria's memory by laying a live wreath on her grave like they do every year. It was one of about 11,700 wreaths placed Saturday morning.
Mike Yarbrough, the president of the nonprofit Horton Wreath Society, said the holiday tradition struggled to meet its goal this year. That is, until the community stepped up over the fall, raising enough funds so no gravesite was left bare.
"We're out here to just honor our vets and pay respects to them," Yarbrough said. "We also want to encourage the younger generation to help them understand the sacrifices our vets have made."
It's a sacrifice Jesse Tullis, who volunteered to help lay wreaths, is determined to make sure his son understands, even if they don't know anyone buried here.
"It's everything that we're given, right?" he said. "If we don't instill that in the younger ones, if we don't continually instill that in ourselves, it's just going to be forgotten. That's what brings me out here."
"There's always going to be things going on, but we're still Americans," Coker-Bell added. "Americans who really love and care about people."