The Georgia National Cemetery, spanning more than 775 acres in the serene landscape of Canton, is the final resting place for thousands of veterans and their families thanks to a generous donation by the late Scott Hudgens Jr., a veteran of World War II, entrepreneur, land developer, and philanthropist from Atlanta.
Every December Wreaths Across America fosters a spirit of remembrance and gratitude for the sacred grounds. The nationwide initiative remembers the fallen, honors those who served, and teaches the next generation about the value of freedom.
The program began as a modest tribute in Arlington National Cemetery in 1992 and has grown into a grassroots movement involving thousands of volunteers and sponsors who gather each December, marking a poignant moment of collective remembrance by placing wreaths on veterans’ graves in cemeteries nationwide.
Wreaths Across America receives no government funding but is made possible by thousands of volunteers who organize local ceremonies, raise funds to sponsor wreaths, and donate their time. Last year Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers placed more than 2.7 million sponsored veterans’ wreaths on the headstones of our nation’s service members at 3,702 participating locations.
LOCAL FOCAL POINT
Each year the Georgia National Cemetery becomes a focal point of the Wreaths Across America program in the Southeast. This year the Georgia National Cemetery Advisory Council has a goal to raise $225,000. It has already raised $150,000, leaving $75,000 needed to ensure each gravesite and columbarium niche, or cremation niche, will receive a wreath again this year. All of the funding for Wreaths Across America comes from individual donations and a few corporate donations, according to Coordinator Russ Seltenright.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world to run out of wreaths,” council member Bruce Williams shared. “We don’t want to ever be in that position.” He adds that it hurts when someone comes up to him and asks, “Why doesn’t my father have one? Doesn’t the federal government do this?” He says, “We have to tell them, ‘No, they don’t,’” and then they realize they could have done it if they had donated.
Georgia National Cemetery averages 2,500 funerals a year. The Advisory Council commits to placing enough wreaths and ensuring visitors feel a sense of pride and a touch of holiday spirit when they visit the cemetery once the wreaths are visible.
Bruce adds, “When the cemeteries are all dressed up, you come to visit and have a look, and it just takes your breath away.”
GNC ADVISORY COUNCIL ENACTS SCHEDULE CHANGES
Last year the enormous response to place wreaths resulted in heavy congestion on Highway 20. To reduce traffic concerns, the event schedule has been changed to two days, bolstered by provided transportation to and from a remote parking site at Sutallee Baptist Church, on Knox Bridge Highway in White. Vans and buses will continuously run both before and after the ceremony. Cherokee County police officers will also direct traffic before and after the event.
Visitors, volunteers, and wreath placers are encouraged to carpool as much as possible to ease the parking burden and to drive slowly and carefully through the singular entrance off Scott Hudgens Drive.
More than a burial ground, the Georgia National Cemetery is a testament to Scott Hudgens Jr.’s love for the people who served and sacrificed for their nation. On December 15, volunteers from across the state will gather with families of the fallen and join hands to ensure that every headstone bears a wreath as a symbol of remembrance.
SAVE THE DATE
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2023
Thursday, December 14, 3:30 p.m. – Volunteers needed to unload trucks and stack boxes.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2023
Friday, December 15, 3:30 p.m. – Reserved for those with loved ones interred at Georgia National Cemetery. Families will be provided one wreath per interred loved one. The wreath placement will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, because of scheduled funerals earlier in the day.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2023
Saturday, December 16, 9:00 a.m. – Wreath placement will start at 9:00 a.m. Following the wreath placements, volunteers will conduct a ceremony honoring the veterans, their spouses, and dependent children interred on the property.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 13, 2024
Saturday, January 13, 9:00 a.m. – Volunteers needed for wreath pick-up.
To support the GNC Advisory Council with decorating graves and cremation niches at the cemetery for the holidays, donate online at GANationalCemetery.org (click “Make a Donation”). Cost to sponsor a wreath is $17/each or $70 for a set of 6.
For volunteer details or more information about Wreaths Across America and Georgia National Cemetery, contact Wreaths Across America Coordinator Russ Seltenright at email@example.com.