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When three men from the Civil Air Patrol walked into Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet in Riviera Beach, Fla., in December 2007 and requested assistance in laying wreaths on veteran’s graves in support of the national Wreaths Across America event, it occurred to Auxiliarist Ed Greenfield there were some veterans who had no headstone to mark their graves.
Greenfield, a decorated World War II veteran, was thinking of those who had perished at sea, including a friend who died when a U-boat torpedoed the ship he was stationed on. After the visit from the Civil Air Patrol, Greenfield was inspired to create a memorial for those without headstones to lay wreaths upon. Greenfield went to work pulling together the first Wreaths Over the Water ceremony held Dec. 15, 2007, coinciding with Wreaths Across America.
“I wanted to help develop a venue, a grave, a place to memorialize those veterans that died over the years,” said Greenfield.
Five years later, the station continues to hold the annual event, honoring and remembering those men and women who perished at sea. On the morning of Saturday, Dec. 15, a crowd gathered at the station and shared a moment of silence, listened to stories of the past and paid respects to those lost.
“It is our intention to honor those forgotten heroes who lie in their unmarked, watery graves with a wreath of remembrance and a farewell flourish of respect,” said Chief Warrant Officer John T. Gatti, commanding officer of the station, during his remarks. “…We are here today to recall all of the…personal sacrifice made in the name of service to the United States of America.”
Following the shoreside ceremony, seven men, representing the Coast Guard, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy, Merchant Marines and prisoners of war and those missing in action, picked up their wreath and led by a bag piper and drummer marched solemnly down the pier to an awaiting boat.
The crew and participants made their way to Lake Worth Inlet where they each tossed their respective wreath into the water with “Amazing Grace” playing on the bag pipes. When the last wreath was wet, each veteran held a salute as “Taps” filled the salty air. Upon return to shore, Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Mick shared he was grateful for the efforts made to honor the past.
Mick was on convalescent leave in December 2010 after being wounded in Afghanistan. He was sent to represent the Army during that year’s ceremony. At first, Mick was unsure about participating, he said, but orders were issued and he arrived in service dress blues expecting little. However, he was moved by the ceremony that day and hopes to be a permanent participant.
“It ended up being a great event [in 2010], and I’ll participate as long as they ask me,” said Mick, who is currently stationed at Army Special Operations Command South in Homestead, Fla.
As for the man who envisioned offering a memorial to the families with no gravesite to visit, Greenfield continues to serve his country and past in the best way he knows how. He also desires for more units to get involved in the Wreaths Over the Water event.
“Since the very first ceremony, it has been my hope that this memorial be done in all Coast Guard units across the nation,” said Greenfield.
He recalled a member of the audience that comes each year, Dorothy Moore, who lost her brother when his ship, the USS Meredith, was torpedoed and sank Oct. 15, 1942. The ceremony offers her something tangible to touch, and to remind her that her brother is not forgotten.
“It’s important to her, and it’s important to me.”