Fontana Lake, North Carolina – A dedicated group of hikers from East Tennessee embarked on a heartfelt journey to Fontana Lake in North Carolina, ensuring that the final resting places of veterans were adorned with wreaths this holiday season. Undeterred by the chilling air at 25 degrees Fahrenheit, volunteers arrived at the lake around 8 a.m., ready to traverse the wilderness in a touching tribute to those who served.
The arduous undertaking commenced with a bone-chilling boat ride across Fontana Lake, followed by a rigorous seven-hour hike to reach the Bone Valley Cemetery, constituting a challenging 14-mile roundtrip. Despite the physical demands, the hikers, each armed with a wreath, persevered to ensure that every veteran’s gravesite was adorned with a symbol of remembrance.
Ret. Sgt. First Class Carla Miller, one of the volunteers, emphasized the honor and minimal sacrifice in covering significant distances to pay respects to those who fought for the country. “It’s really no work at all to go 14, 15, 20, or 100 miles to respect the people that fought for this country,” she expressed. “It’s an honor to read all those names.”
Upon reaching the cemetery, the volunteers meticulously placed wreaths on each veteran’s grave, taking a moment to pause and audibly speak the veteran’s name as a mark of reverence. Peter Lloyd, the organizer of the hike, underscored the significance of giving back during this festive season. “It’s a great time of year to be giving something back to our ancestors,” he remarked.
In addition to the Bone Valley Cemetery, other hikers on the expedition visited Proctor Cemetery, Bradshaw Cemetery, and several other mountain cemeteries, extending their tribute to veterans spanning various conflicts, including the Civil War. Marine Veteran Jerry Wernli emphasized the unity among all veterans, regardless of the era or side of the war they served. “Whether they served in World War I, World War II, the Civil War, regardless of the side of the war they were on, they are still our brothers and sisters,” he affirmed. “It’s making sure that nobody’s forgotten.”
The Veterans Heritage Site Foundation is continuing its mission to honor veterans through the Wreaths Across America program, hosting additional events across East Tennessee throughout the weekend.