ST. LOUIS, MO – Dennis Klier, 72, an Air Force veteran from Florissant, stopped the bike at the graves of his mother and his father, a decorated World War II veteran who died Feb. 27, 2014, at age 91. Klier laid both wreaths down on their headstones, stepped back three paces and raised his right arm in a slow military salute.
The wreaths Klier laid were among about 30,000 donated wreaths placed on the graves of American service members at Jefferson Barracks since a ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday. That’s a record number in the 13 years the cemetery has taken part in Wreaths Across America.
The nonprofit effort works with local groups to coordinate wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,400 sites the country in conjunction with a national minute of silence and the laying of wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.
Klier, a member of a volunteer motorcycle group called Patriot Guard Riders that accompanies the funerals of veterans, often drives past his parents’ graves and salutes them each time.
But honoring them with holiday wreaths as he has done for the past five years is different from other ceremonies honoring military service.
“Certain times and certain things trigger memories,” he said. “It’s a little more than just honoring their service. Today I’m also honoring my personal memories with them around the holidays.”
The wreath-laying ceremony Saturday, which was attended by more than 3,000 people, was the second coordinated by the Gateway Blue Star Mothers, the local chapter of a nonprofit of mothers with sons or daughters in the armed forces.
Last year the group also collected a record number of wreaths donated by friends and family of dead service members as well as local nonprofit groups and businesses, receiving a total of about 13,000 wreaths, up from about 1,400 in 2016.