Bay Pines Cemetery struggles to put wreath on every veteran's grave

Each December, volunteers place hundreds of thousands of evergreen, live wreaths on the graves of veterans. 

The program started at Arlington National Cemetery in 1992 and now takes place in more than 1,400 cemeteries across the country, including in the Bay Area.

For Ronalee Klase, her brother, Billy's grave couldn't be more perfect.

"I always kid, I say it’s right on the edge just where he lived life," Klase said.

Billy Klase was a Vietnam vet, a martial arts expert, and an avid skydiver. He was laid to rest at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg 14 years ago.

"We try to come out on the anniversary of his death and put some flowers down for him," said Klase.

She also makes sure he gets a wreath during the holiday season. 

The cemetery is one of hundreds across the country taking part in Wreaths Across America. Every December, volunteers lay evergreens on the graves of our fallen soldiers, saying every name out loud.

"It touches the heartstrings, it makes you stop and think and remember,” Klase said. “And this time of year people are so busy rushing around, running around, and doing everything they're not thinking about the families of our servicemen and women who are not here."

Bay Pines National Cemetery is the final resting place for about 34,000 veterans.  It costs just $15 to donate a wreath, but Klase says every year it's a struggle.

"Last year was the highest we got and that was close to 6,000, but we have never gotten 34,000," she said.

Right now, Bay Pines is at 5 percent of its goal, meaning more than 32,000 graves won't get a wreath.

"I would just love to see the cemetery filled, I’d like to see it filled with people coming out to lay the wreaths, I’d like to see wreaths on every grave out here," said Klase.

Nationwide, the wreath-laying and remembrance ceremony is December 15. The mission is to teach people about patriotism while honoring our veterans and those still serving.

"It's worth the time, it's worth the effort, it's worth saying we do remember and we do understand the sacrifices,” Klase said.

About four other cemeteries in the region take part in Wreaths Across America. At Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, the goal is to lay 30,000 wreaths this year. 

So far, more than 18,000 have been donated.

The deadline to donate a wreath is December 3.

If you're interested in sponsoring a wreath or volunteering for the ceremony, visit the website for Bay Pines National Cemetery and Florida National Cemetery.