Niles Bennett was an infantryman who died in May 1928.
John Rotolo was an infantryman who died in August 1928.
Arlen Cox was a seaman with the U.S. Navy who died in December 1928.
Their names appear on just three of some 1,500 grave markers in the Hot Springs National Cemetery.
They and their comrades in arms were honored Saturday during the annual Wreaths Across America event.
Wreaths Across America was founded to continue and expand the wreath-laying ceremony that takes place at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. It was started by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992 with a mission of remembering and honoring veterans and teaching others about the sacrifices they have given.
Since then, the organization has coordinated wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,200 cemeteries in all 50 states.
Volunteers distributed 509 wreaths throughout the Hot Springs cemetery after a formal opening ceremony led by South Dakota Representative Tim Goodwin.
“The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price,” he said, reading from the scripted part of the Wreaths Across America program.
The ability to worship as we choose, to travel freely and vote without explanation are all examples of what veterans have fought and died for throughout the course of history.
“The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality,” he continued.
For those in the audience who answered that call, Goodwin, a veteran himself, offered a heartfelt thank you. Also taking part in the ceremony was the Crazy Horse Composite Civil Air Patrol, the American Legion Riders Battle Mountain Post 71 and American Legion Post 71.
The formal part of the ceremony concluded with members of each branch of service laying a wreath for the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and the more than 93,000 prisoners of war and missing in action.
Volunteers were then set loose to lay wreaths throughout the cemetery, and were encouraged to speak the name of the fallen aloud as they did so.
Kevin Whyte and his daughter Kendra, Junior Miss Southern Hills, were among the volunteers. While Whyte said he came to support his daughter, the visit to the cemetery struck a deeper cord.
“It’s a way of teaching my family our history,” he said, noting that several members of his family served in the armed forces at one time or another. Whyte himself served in the Army in the mid-1980s.
“It’s a beautiful morning to be out here,” he said, adding that the wreath tribute is a great way to honor those who served.
Sam and Julie Boettcher of Custer brought their granddaughter, Alexys Schille of Rapid City, to the Wreaths Across America event. They’ve seen the program grow from a scant two dozen wreaths to the more than 500 this year as they make the trip annually.
“This is awesome. I was blown away,” Julie said. “I think next year they’ll fill the rest of it,” Sam added.
They both have relatives in the service and believe it’s important to pay respects to the fallen.
“It’s just our way of honoring them,” Sam said of their annual trip to the Wreaths Across America event.
The ceremony and view of so many wreaths decorating the cemetery brings a lump to your throat, Julie said, when you realize the enormity of the sacrifice the country’s veterans have made.
“Day to day you don’t think about that,” she said.
The National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was completed in 1907. The cemetery was established for the interment of veterans who died while residing there. In 1930, the home became part of the Veterans Administration and, in 1973, the cemetery was one of 21 cemeteries transferred to what was then known as the National Cemetery System.