Tombstone wreaths help Beaufort, America remember veterans

Wreaths that will be laid at headstones in the Beaufort National Cemetery Saturday would have looked like the Rockefeller Center tree to Bob Waldrop on Christmas Day 1944.

He was a prisoner of war, in Stalag Luft 6 in Lithuania.

His daughter, Mary Ann Waldrop of Beaufort, told me that late in his life her father opened up to tell how the prisoners somehow bribed a German guard to bring in what was little more than a twig. They decorated it with the crimped-over lids of salmon cans, holes punched in them so the POWs wouldn't stash the food away for an escape. The fishy ornaments were hung with Red Cross thread, dangling beneath a star of cardboard colored with chalk. Wood shavings from the paper bags that served as mattresses were sprinkled on the "tree" to look like snow. And on Christmas Eve, prisoners far from home and the freedom they were dying for sang "Silent Night."

Now almost 90, Waldrop will join bikers, Daughters of the American Revolution, Civil Air Patrol Cadets, the Beaufort Council of Garden Clubs and many others in laying 1,288 wreaths with big red bows at graves in Beaufort's historic cemetery.

In a ceremony that begins at noon, Waldrop will help lay one of seven wreaths to be placed beneath the flag pole to honor each branch of service and the POW/MIAs.

"The worst thing you could ever do to a veteran is forget," said Theresa Raley Trillo of Charleston, who has coordinated the wreath-laying program here since it began seven years ago. Her father was in the service. Her husband is a retired naval officer. Her son served in Afghanistan. "The worst thing is not to die in a war. The worst thing is to be forgotten."

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