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Local family lays wreaths for military fallen

| Staff Reporters
Each December, volunteers bundle up against the cold and walk the silent rows of the nation’s military cemeteries, carrying armfuls of bright green Christmas wreaths.
wreath

Each December, volunteers bundle up against the cold and walk the silent rows of the nation’s military cemeteries, carrying armfuls of bright green Christmas wreaths.

Their goal is to lay a donated wreath on every grave they can. Some years, Barrancas National Cemetery sees less than 30% of their 40,000 graves adorned with a holiday wreath.

Holley Navarre doctor Joel Rudman and his family volunteer with the Fort Barrancas portion of national nonprofit Wreaths Across America to pay tribute to these service members and their families.

“Being a doctor in a military bedroom community, you see these people every day, and you wish there was a way to pay them back. This was our way of saying thank you,” Rudman said.

They have been participating for four years as a family, and each time they have found ways to make the experience special and more meaningful. Initially they just laid wreaths by section. Then they began to learn about the men and women buried there.

When they learned of five British soldiers who were buried at Barrancas due to dying in the U.S. during training in World War II, they made a point to lay wreaths on those graves. Rudman’s wife is British.

“Nobody is going to travel this far to lay a wreath on these graves, so we do,” Rudman said.

Last year, Rudman found out the husband of one of his patients was buried out there. He asked her if she would like for him to lay a wreath on her husband’s grave. She was touched by the gesture.

“We made it our duty to go find this grave and make sure it has a wreath on it,” Rudman said. “It made it a more meaningful event. It was such a personally rewarding thing.”

Then his son, Evan, had an idea. Evan is a junior at Navarre High School (NHS). The family purchased 100 wreaths for the 2020 Christmas season with the goal of identifying local families that need someone to lay a wreath on their loved one’s grave at Barrancas. He said sometimes people are not able to make it out to their family member’s grave for many reasons.

“If we are able to go out there, then that really helps out,” Evan Rudman said. “It’s the least we can do.”

Dr. Rudman said for families that lost their loved one in the line of service, it can be painful to come to the site themselves.

“There are people who have a loved one that is buried out there but haven’t been back out there because it can be so traumatic bringing all that back,” he said.


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