Traditionally, the national model has been for each cemetery to be an individual location, but as a small community with three cemeteries scattered across a large county, Okeechobee’s volunteers have deviated from that pattern by seeking to raise funds enough to meet the needs for all three cemeteries: Evergreen, Ft. Drum, and Basinger. “Technically speaking, each location should be addressed separately, but we don’t want to confuse people and give the impression of having opposing fundraisers,” Brad explains. With approximately 900-1,000 veterans interred at Evergreen, plus the needs of the other two locations, the group seeks to raise funds sufficient to place wreaths on roughly 1,300 gravestones.
While the national organization provides an outline for the annual event to maintain a level of uniformity at the ceremonies, they also allow some flexibility for communities to represent their individual character. In Okeechobee, that has entailed the inclusion of local civic groups, the local Eagle Riders motorcycle club, mounted Sheriff’s Posse officers, and various youth groups participating as a community service project.
As part of the national organization’s protocol, eight ceremonial wreaths are present at each ceremony, representing the eight branches of the United States Uniformed Services – Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, Space Force, Public Health Service Commissioned Corps (MIA/POW), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (Merchant Marines). For Okeechobee’s ceremony, and as a way of showing honor and respect for their past service, local veterans are chosen to place the ceremonial wreath representing their branch of the military. Following the placement of the ceremonial wreaths, the gathered crowd will hear from a guest speaker before being invited to help place the wreaths for the veterans throughout the cemetery.