Dozens of volunteers worked Tuesday to clean up and recycle wreaths placed at veterans’ graves at East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery last month for Wreaths Across America.
“We came out to gather up the wreaths that have been placed here for our vets,” said volunteer Sonny Harben.
Hundreds of volunteers worked in December to make sure the veterans buried there are remembered.
Now almost a month later, the tired wreaths were picked up in a way they have never been handled before. Each branch and each bow will continue to serve.
“In Fayetteville, Arkansas, they have been doing this for a few years now. I saw that, and I said there’s no reason why we can’t do that. We can do that,” said Brad Rettig from Rural Metro Fire Department. He helped set up Tuesday’s event.
Many of the volunteers back out at East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery were veterans themselves, scooping up the wreaths and sending them on to serve another purpose.
Once the wreaths were picked up at the cemetery, the volunteers took them down the road to the rescue squad building where recycling began.
The process is a first in Knoxville.
“By taking everything that was a part of the wreath and recycling it and reusing it, it pays honor to those veterans that are out there,” Rettig said.
Piece by piece the wreaths were taken apart. The branches were turned into mulch. Sturdy bows will be reused. The metal wire from the more than 2,000 wreaths will be recycled to raise money for more wreaths next December.
“I was a little nervous coming in. How is it going to work? But so far so good. We’re going way faster than I thought we would,” Rettig said.
The group said they are just trying to keep the mission of the wreaths going.
“It’s to honor those that have gone before us to get us where we are today,” Harben said.
The group is hoping to continue the recycling project next year and expand it to the other two veterans cemeteries in the Knoxville area.