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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Mickey McCamish lays Christmas Wreaths at a grave as a part of "Wreaths Across America", an initiative to honor deceased veterans by laying Christmas wreaths at their graves at the National Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A record number of wreaths, nearly 15,000, were placed on the grave markers of veterans buried at the Chattanooga National Cemetery this holiday season as part of the Wreaths Across Chattanooga program.

The program started three years ago with 3,000 wreaths placed on grave markers here, and this year's number tops last year's by 2,000 wreaths, according to Capt. Mickey McCamish, chairman of Wreaths Across Chattanooga.

"We set a record and you know, with COVID-19 and people struggling economically, we really didn't push it, but you guys and the media and the community really stepped up," he said.

Proceeds go to fund various programs honoring veterans throughout the year, as well as some administrative costs such as website fees and printing.

In making the announcement, McCamish said the wreaths will be retired from the gravestones on Jan. 23, and the community is again asked to help with the effort. Volunteers will be asked to be at the cemetery off of North Holtzclaw Avenue at 8:30 a.m.

They will remove the wreaths from the markers and carry them to a truck that will be circling around the cemetery.

To volunteer, contact Fran Barker at williamandfranbarker@gmail.com. Anyone wishing to remove a wreath from a loved one's gravestone is asked to please do so before Saturday, Jan. 23.

The wreaths will be sent to a recycling center.

Hamilton County Health Department guidelines regarding COVID-19 will be followed, McCamish said.

"Many people bring gloves and a broom or a rake so they can get more wreaths on the handle at one time," he said.

The planning for the 2021 observance is underway, and McCamish said he hopes to use local nurseries to supply the wreaths.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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