A white-haired man escorted by Civil Air Patrol cadets carried a wreath to one of seven easels arrayed before silent onlookers, then removed his Merchant Marines cap and dropped his chin onto his stars-and-stripes tie, pausing in contemplation.
For Douglas Ehlers, this was a moment for remembering World War II and departed comrades.
"I tear up quite a bit thinking about it," Ehlers, 83, said later. "More so as time goes on."
The occasion was the fifth annual Wreaths Across America Day event at the Veterans Administration Cemetery in Los Angeles, one of more than 500 such ceremonies held simultaneously Saturday in the United States and abroad. Meant to honor veterans and fallen troops during the holidays, the quiet tradition has grown in the 19 years since a nonprofit group began laying wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Amid the more than 85,000 gravestones at the cemetery near Westwood, seven wreaths adorned with flags and red ribbons were displayed in honor of veterans of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine, and prisoners of war and those missing in action.
"We are surrounded in this cemetery by men and women who gave their lives so we can live without fear," Major Frank X. Marcial of the U.S. Air Force Civil Air Patrol Auxiliary told the 200 people in folding chairs. "Many of you are veterans of wars and conflicts America had to fight to protect freedom. We are here today to thank you. We are honored to know you."
In an interview, Marcial said it's important to remember lost combatants at holiday time.
"Our veterans who are laying at rest here will never again see the Christmas holidays and the new year," said the 59-year-old Stevenson Ranch resident. "We want to make sure in spirit that they see we do not forget them."