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Wreaths Across America, Quilt of Valor events honor veterans

Overlake School band director Steve Mraz performs “Taps” at last Saturday’s Wreaths Across America event. - Courtesy photo
Overlake School band director Steve Mraz performs “Taps” at last Saturday’s Wreaths Across America event.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

This last weekend, two Redmond organizations held events to honor local living and fallen veterans.

For the second year, the David Douglas chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in Redmond teamed up with Wreaths Across America (WAA) to lay wreaths down on veterans’ grave sites at Cedar Lawns Memorial Park and Funeral Home last Saturday.

Jacqueline Riddell, a registrar for DAR, said the event was a collaborative effort among DAR, WAA and Cedar Lawns.

WAA began in 1992 when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Maine, arranged to have their surplus of wreaths at the end of the holiday season placed at grave sites at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. to honor the country’s veterans. The program continued and expanded to include cemeteries throughout the country.

“It just gradually really started spreading,” Riddell said, adding that about 500 cemeteries participated in the nationwide event this year.

During the ceremony, seven wreaths were placed around the flagpole to represent each branch of the military and 41 wreaths were placed on grave sites throughout the cemetery.

“It was really wonderful to see all of those wreaths laid on those grave sites,” Riddell said.

She said WAA is meant to honor veterans, to “remember what they did for our country and to teach our children.”

Redmond Mayor John Marchione spoke at the event at Cedar Lawns, discussing the veterans buried in Redmond and touching on the city’s centennial. In addition, Overlake School band director Steve Mraz performed “Taps” on the trumpet.

While WAA provided the programming for the ceremony and Riddell and DAR coordinated volunteers — many of which were veterans from Redmond VFW Post 2995 — Cedar Lawns provided tents and canopies for rain protection, blankets for people to stay warm, refreshments and beverages.

Harris Helgeson, family service supervisor at Cedar Lawns, worked with Riddell on organizing the event. As a Vietnam War veteran, he said he is a big supporter of what veterans do for the country.

QUILT OF VALOR

In addition to providing volunteers for the WAA event, VFW Post 2995 also held an event at the VFW Foley Hall in Redmond to present World War II veteran Wilbur Keith Atherton with the Quilt of Valor.

In an email, VFW senior Arlene Steele wrote that the Quilt of Valor is a wartime quilt made to honor veterans wounded during wartime.

“It is a tangible way to say, ‘Thank you for your service, sacrifice and valor for our country,’” Steele wrote. “A Quilt of Valor is not a charity quilt nor a service quilt. It is a beautifully made, pieced and quilted wartime quilt. It is also made by wartime quilters.”

Atherton was born June 26, 1927. He joined the Navy Seabees when he was 17, serving in WWII from March 1945 to June 1946. Atherton served as a merchant mate in Okinawa, Japan. He joined the U.S. Army when he was 18 in September 1946, serving as a corporal for three years. In 1949, Atherton transferred to the Army Engineers until 1952. He took a few years off and then joined the Washington Nation Guard in 1956. He was sent to training as a communications specialist at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. After 12 years of service in the National Guard, Atherton retired as a master sergeant.

During his service, Atherton received three Bronze Stars with Valor.

After retiring from the service, he went to work for Caterpillar Tractor Dealers in Yakima, where he retired again after 18 years in 1968.

Keith married his wife Teresa in June of 1952. Together, they have seven children and 27 grandchildren. Three of their sons joined the Army and one grandson, who served in Iraq and was wounded in the line of duty.

Atherton joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) on Aug. 31, 1999 and is a life member of post 6785 Kent Meridian.

He currently lives with his daughter and son-in-law in Cottage Lake and is learning to play the fiddle to keep him busy.

After Atherton’s presentation, the VFW held a ceremony to honor the Patriots Pen and the Voice of Democracy scholarship winners to grade school children in the area, who wrote essays about the United States.

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