|Vietnam Veterans of America|
Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Chapter 67 has embarked on a unique new project: honoring its deceased members by placing Christmas wreaths on their graves. Kim Lamond-Burkhart, whose father was an active member of the chapter, came up with the idea after learning that there was no program to honor Vietnam War veterans interred in private cemeteries during the holiday season.
“We realize it’s inevitable that people will pass on,” said Lamond-Burkhart, who with her two sisters, has raised funds for Chapter 67 in memory of their father, Wayne T. Lamond, who died in 2017. “But it’s up to that next generation to keep their spirits and memories alive. That’s what my sisters and I are trying to do.”
Lamond-Burkhart’s holiday wreath idea came to her after participating in Wreaths Across America with her teenage daughter in 2021. She realized that while that organization provides wreaths for graves in military cemeteries, many other veterans are buried elsewhere. Her father, who served on USS Montrose, an attack transport ship, for example, wanted to be buried next to his wife.
Plus, she had seen the emotional impact of floral arrangements through the work of her sister Tracy Mormando, a florist who is Executive Director of Bouquets of Kindness, a nonprofit that sends surplus flowers to nursing home and hospice care residents.
Lamond-Burkhart presented her idea last September to Chapter 67 – the first chartered Pennsylvania VVA chapter, established in 1981– at its monthly meeting in the small community of Morton. The chapter members all welcomed the gesture, and the board came up with a list of deceased former members.
“This is such a beautiful gift to the chapter, a sincere gift from a family member who wants to honor those who have passed away,” said former VVA National Vice President Marsha Four, a longtime Chapter 67 member. “Although we go to the funerals, after that, the attention seems to drift away and stays within the private family arena. Kim brought to us something that allowed us to continue a connection to them and to contribute to honoring what they have done.”
The owner of a travel agency, Lamond-Burkhart is comfortable with online research and started tracking down the families and final resting places of nearly 50 deceased Chapter 67 members. She also reached out to chapter members for information and kept relatives of the deceased informed.
“There’s still a couple I haven’t found,” she said. “But I found a couple of spouses and started making phone calls and tried to explain what I was doing and what my intention was. I was on the phone with one wife for 45 minutes to an hour talking about her spouse and how important the chapter was to them.”
As with her previous fundraising efforts for Chapter 67, Lamond-Burkhart posted an appeal for donations on Facebook around Veterans Day. She asked for $15 donations and raised $1,000. What’s more, a local supermarket, Produce Junction, offered a discount on wreaths.
Lamond-Burkhart then set about placing the wreaths on all the area graves she had located, as well as at local veterans and war memorials. She also placed floral arrangements on out-of-town graves or, for veterans who had been cremated or interred in distant cemeteries, had them delivered to family members.
“I stood over their graves, and said ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” Lamond-Burkhart said. “I just think that’s what’s important – to never forget their service.”
She received only positive reactions from family members and other veterans organizations, for the program, which she intends to repeat annually.
“I would love to see this expand to all the wars, in the sense of the children and spouses of veterans of those wars being able to do something,” she said. “If that means that next year we have a pickup center where you can pick up a wreath and place it yourself, that’s fine, too. We want to make sure that wreaths are placed around the holidays for veterans.”
This could be a national project that VVA and AVVA could embrace,” Marsha Four said. “It would strengthen the ties between AVVA members of each chapter and the chapter itself. That’s the reason I’m pushing it.”
Lamond-Burkhart’s advice to chapters considering starting a wreath-laying project is to “start a little earlier than I did the first year, which is going to be the toughest because you’re in research mode. Once you start your spreadsheet template, you’re then just adding a name on there and knowing what you need to raise funds for the following year.”
While she delivered the wreaths herself for a fairly small chapter, Lamond-Burkhart pointed out that friends, family, and chapter members could easily pitch in. And while large cemeteries can be difficult to navigate, she found that cemetery staffers were happy to help locate graves.
“I’d really like to see the next generation get involved,” Lamont-Burkhart said. “If they’re not sure exactly how to do it, I would be more than happy to help them. It’s not hard, but you have to have your heart in it.”
While it was far from her primary motivation, Lamont-Burkhart also described the considerable personal emotional reward she received from her holiday wreaths initiative.
“There are tears of sadness and joy at the same time,” she said. “For me, it gets back to my dad and the stories he told about his time in the service and that brotherhood he had with his shipmates. I felt that my dad was there with me, smiling down.”
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