Several individuals from the Davis community and beyond gathered Saturday to lay wreaths at the graves of nearly 500 veterans buried at Green Hill and Oak Ridge Cemeteries.

The 50 to 60 people in Davis were joined by individuals at more than 1,600 other locations across the nation carrying out the same wreath-laying ceremony, said local ceremony coordinator Sue Ensley.

The ceremony first took place at the Arlington National Cemetery in 1992 and the nonprofit organization Wreaths Across America was formed 15 years later to accommodate a growing population that wanted to contribute. Today, the organization helps provide wreaths for cemeteries across all 50 states through donations and sponsorships.

Ensley said this was the second year the Davis community participated in what has come to be known as Wreaths Across America Day. With her son buried at the Arlington cemetery, Ensley was passionate about bringing the ceremony to the local community.

The crowd, filled with veterans, those currently serving, family members of those serving and of those who have passed, was much larger than the previous year, said Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, who spoke at the ceremony.

“This is a great opportunity for many of us and I’m so impressed to see this crowd today,” Simpson said. “It’s a much bigger crowd than we had last year. I think that just shows that once the word gets out that you have a chance to come and honor veterans so many people respond.”

Simpson, a retired navy veteran himself, said he is familiar with the emotions that people experience when remembering those who have been lost while in service during such occasions.

“I really know the stories of some of the people here today and I know this is, for many, a bittersweet occasion today because it evokes memories of a lost loved one, but it also gives us a chance to honor their memory,” Simpson said. “God bless those who are here today who probably have a heavy heart.”

During the ceremony, seven ceremonial wreaths were placed by members of Beyond Brotherhood, a nonprofit organization focused on bringing awareness to homelessness and suicide among veterans.

The wreaths each represented a different branch of service personnel, with the last wreath honoring the over 84,000 U.S. service personnel whose last known status was a prisoner of war or missing in action. “These individuals have never returned to their families,” said Oklahoma National Guard Major Rufus Reed.

“The wreaths before you represent our commitment as a united America to remember the fallen and to symbolize our honor to those who have served and are currently serving,” Reed said.

While the majority of the ceremony focused on honoring and remembering fallen veterans, engaging younger generations was also encouraged by many speakers at the ceremony.

“I think that shared vision of making sure all generations are educated about the sacrifices of veterans and fallen veterans that are giving to our country and the importance of honoring service, I think that vision is so important,” said AARP Volunteer State President Joe Ann Vermillion.

Children of all ages, along with their family members and others in the community, grasped wreaths to place across the cemetery following the conclusion of the ceremony. About an hour past the beginning of the ceremony, wreaths decorated with red ribbons filled the cemetery grounds.

With the Davis location being one of the closest to Ardmore to celebrate Wreaths Across America Day, Ensley said she hopes to help bring the ceremony south in the future — ideally at the new state-operated veterans cemetery.

Individuals can also still donate to sponsor wreaths for upcoming ceremonies in other areas and Wreaths Across American will match the donation, Ensley said. To find out more information, contact Ensley at 817-658-9158.

“I think this is a wonderful, wonderful event for Davis and it speaks well for Southern Oklahoma,” Simpson said. “Southern Oklahoma loves our veterans and honors our veterans and it speaks well for my district.”