MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
More than 50 Marines and sailors with Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s Single Marine Program meticulously placed dozens of wreaths honoring a few of the thousands buried throughout the white gravestone-dotted hills of Arlington National Cemetery during Wreaths Across America Day, Dec. 14.
Service members traveled to Arlington, Va., America’s most hallowed ground, to pay their respects and reflect on the lives and experiences of service members from conflicts past and present.
“Seeing all of these gravestones, a small fraction of the sacrifices made, makes you appreciate being an American,” said Capt. Michael Madia, the commander of Marine Special Operation Regiment’s Headquarters Company. “It’s humbling. It puts everything into perspective.”
Placing wreaths on the graves was a moment of reflection for the participants. Even if the families of the deceased were not there, the service members were not forgotten, said Madia. Many of the deceased have been interred for decades or centuries, and have no immediate family to honor their memories.
“They sacrificed before us and laid the foundations,” said Madia. “Even if it was two hundred years ago and you may not be able to read the marking on the headstone, their sacrifice still affects us.”
It was a trip that hit close to home for Madia, who took time
to honor his uncle, a veteran buried at Arlington. He felt the trip was a way to pay his respects in a military capacity.
The SMP group was just 50 out of the thousands of civilians, service members and celebrities who visited the cemetery to show their support.
“It felt unreal,” said Lance Cpl. Ernesto Fragoso, a field artillery cannoneer with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “You hear and read about (Wreaths across America), but to actually experience it was very inspiring. It made me think about what I’m doing and what I’m contributing.”
Fragoso placed a wreath on the grave of a Marine he did not know.
“I knew a Marine was being honored,” said Fragoso. “Even if I didn’t know him, I know his sacrifices weren’t for nothing. He is still being remembered.”
It was an experience that could not be found anywhere else, said Pfc. Austin Williams, a student with Marine Corps Engineer School.
“There’s no way to feel this without being here and seeing some of the lives sacrificed for our freedom,” said Williams.
When he placed his wreaths down, he took a moment to think of the individuals and thank them, Williams added.
“There was a lot more to this trip than I thought I could ever imagine or feel,” said Williams.
The Marines also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the trip and explored other historical sites and monuments.
“This is something I’ll never forget,” said Pfc. Jamie Neal, a student with Marine Corps Engineer School. “It’s shocking how much you can learn from one trip.”
For more information about the Single Marine Program, visit www.mccslejeune.com/smp.