Wreaths to be laid on hallowed ground Dec.12

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published November 30, 2015


METRO DETROIT — About 20 members of the Osak family, their friends and supporters packed into vans and headed to the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly last December.

They went to honor Edward John Osak Sr., the family’s patriarch, a Warren resident who had served honorably as an infantryman in the U.S. Army during World War II. Osak had remained as sharp as a tack through the years. He’d kept his wit, was spry enough to bowl and continued to be an ardent supporter of veterans until his death, just days after his 90th birthday in September 2014.

His daughter, Cheri Osak, said the strength behind the Wreaths Across America movement became clear the moment the caravan took the freeway exit near the cemetery.

“It was such an emotional thing. There was so many people there,” Osak said. “When we got off the ramp, it was bumper-to-bumper all the way up to the cemetery.”

This year, wreaths will be laid Dec. 12 on approximately 19,000 graves at Great Lakes. Guests wishing to volunteer are asked to carpool if possible due to parking limitations. The wreaths will be brought in by trucks, unloaded and laid on the graves beginning at 11 a.m. A ceremony will follow at noon, honoring veterans of all branches of military service.

Osak attends Hope Lutheran Church in Warren with John Williams, a trustee with the Metropolitan Detroit Veterans Coalition and a U.S. Navy veteran. Williams shared the story of Wreaths Across America with her last year, and Osak said the family launched an effort to collectively support it.

“We did it as a family. We have a family Facebook page. We got everybody involved — the kids, the grandkids, the great-grandkids,” Osak said. “We were all out there, and members from my parents’ church. We had quite the showing out there to put wreaths on the graves. I just thought it was a fantastic idea, especially for the great-grandchildren, to see that and to feel that.”

Williams, of Southfield, said he has supported the Wreaths Across America program since 2008 as one of hundreds of volunteers who turn out to place the wreaths in Holly, and thousands more at cemeteries across the country. The effort is supported by corporate donations and wreath sponsorships from individuals and families.

Williams said he sponsors three wreaths, including the one he places for his niece, Julie Ruth Carman, who died in 2013.

“It’s just to remember my buddies, my shipmates, my niece over the holidays,” Williams said. “You think about people who aren’t there, and it’s just a way to remember them.”

Williams said he pauses briefly when he places a wreath to read the name on the headstone and offer a quiet thanks and a salute.

He said the story behind the motivation for every volunteer is different.

“It’s just all kinds of people, a real cross section of veterans and families and friends,” Williams said. “My main goal in doing this is just to see that other people and these programs get recognized.”

According to the Wreaths Across America website, the effort began in 1992 when Morrill Worcester, of Worcester Wreath in Maine, inspired by a boyhood trip to Arlington National Cemetery, donated a surplus of wreaths to the cemetery. The Wreaths Across America nonprofit was founded in 2007, and in 2008, 60,000 volunteers placed wreaths in more than 300 locations spanning every state, Puerto Rico and 24 cemeteries overseas.

In 2014, Wreaths Across America volunteers laid 700,000 wreaths on graves at 1,000 locations around the world, including the Pearl Harbor Memorial and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

For more information about Wreaths Across America, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

The Great Lakes National Cemetery is located at 4200 Belford Road in Holly. For more about the event there on Dec. 12, visit www.facebook.com/WAAGLNC.