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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Florida, Bikers, City Hall team up to honor veterans

A motorcycle club in Homestead hopes to lay wreaths at the graves of 600 veterans in South Miami-Dade.
About 600 veterans are buried at Palms Woodlawn Cemetery in Naranja.
The U.S. Military Vets Motorcycle Club of Homestead and City Council members hope to lay a wreath at the foot of each of those graves in time for the holidays.
The club -- a national organization aimed at improving the image of bikers -- and the city have partnered to bring Wreaths Across America to South Miami-Dade for the first time.
An extension of the Arlington Project at the national cemetery near Washington, D.C., the program helps lay thousands of wreaths at veterans' headstones across the country.
``I just think it's important that no veteran is ever forgotten. And I think the evidence of being forgotten is an empty grave all year long,'' said club President Bill Hildebrand, whose ride name is Chainbreaker.
This year's goal was ambitious: Coordinators hoped to raise enough money for 1,000 wreaths. So far, they've only raised enough for less than 200. Each wreath costs $15.
``We're trying to do it for the veterans, and keep that spirit alive in hopes that we can show the people who are alive today that when your turn comes, you won't be forgotten either,'' said Hildebrand, who served for six years in the Marines.
For Vice Mayor Judy Waldman, who is coordinating the city's side of the project, decorating veteran's graves for the holidays is more than just a nice gesture. It's personal.
Waldman's father was a disabled navy veteran. He was injured when he cut an artery while manning a weapon, leading to severe heart damage. He is buried in Palms Woodlawn.
When Waldman visited her father's grave for Memorial Day, she said she was struck by the number of veterans who have been laid to rest at the cemetery -- and whose graves were not decorated for the holiday.
``I really took notice because there were so few of those little American flags,'' she said.
So Waldman and her husband took a trip to a dollar store, bought up all the American flags they could, and placed them at the military men and women's final resting places.
``We forget that our soldiers that fought in World War I or World War II, many of them have no loved ones anymore,'' Waldman said. ``Their graves are there, and they wear they badge of honor silently.''
Shortly after her impromptu show of patriotism, Waldman was approached by the motorcycle club.
A service will be held at the cemetery Dec. 11 to lay the wreaths and remember the veterans.
``It's just a very simple, sweet gesture,'' said Waldman. ``And that's making sure that every veteran's grave at Palms Woodlawn has a wreath for Christmas, in honor of their service to their country.''
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