Karen Pruss views each of the over 1,100 veteran gravesites within Evergreen Cemetery’s 53 acres as not just a headstone but a chapter in history.
“Every one of these headstones represents a life,” she said. “Every one of these lives has a story.”
The Evergreen Cemetery coordinator, whose parents are Air Force veterans, has two sons in the military. She joined Gainesville residents at an annual remembrance event at the 167-year-old cemetery on Saturday to prepare for the city’s Memorial Day service.
Roughly 150 Gainesville residents dressed head-to-toe in red, white, and blue to place American flags on the graves of veterans.
Pruss helped the Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville, Inc. board organize the day’s events as part of an effort to engage the community with the historic site and honor fallen veterans. She said she is amazed by the Gainesville community’s unwavering support.
“It’s so heartwarming to see how many people want to place a flag and honor our veterans,” she said. “So many of them have given their life for the defense of our country so I just want to make sure they’re all honored.”
When volunteers arrived at the event, each party received a map listing the location of a different veteran-populated section of the cemetery with the names of each veteran. Participants were also given dozens of American flags to place by the graves.
Throughout the morning, community members of all ages and backgrounds roamed the cemetery to pay respects to the thousands of men and women who died during monumental periods of American history, like the Civil War.
Sandra Murphy’s husband is a disabled veteran who served in the Vietnam War. They recently moved to Gainesville from Orlando. This was her first time attending the event.
“There are still many that are suffering from the aftermath of war,” she said. “This helps us keep them in our hearts too.”
Although her husband could not attend due to his condition, Murphy said she still wanted to show support for those who gave their lives to protect the country.
“Memorial Day is very important to him,” she said. “I’m here because he can’t be.”
Like Murphy, husband and wife Ray and Meiring Brady attended the remembrance event for the first time this year and have several veterans in their families. Although the Gainesville residents regularly stroll on nearby trails, they rarely visit the cemetery. When they found out the cemetery was seeking volunteers, they stepped up.
“It’s a meaningful way for citizens to be involved,” Ray said.
Don Barber, 80, is an Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville, Inc. board member and longtime Gainesville resident. His father died during World War II and is buried in the Netherlands. He attends Evergreen Cemetery’s Memorial Day event every year.
“It’s just a nice day to remember all those who lost their lives,” he said.
His 79-year-old wife, Anne, is also a proud member of the board.
“In this day and age when they’re having a hard time getting people to join the military, and you see the response that we’re getting here — it’s just wonderful,” she said.
Amber Gale, a 40-year-old veteran who has lived in Gainesville for almost 20 years, attended the event with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.
Gale joined the military immediately after graduating high school. At 19, she met her husband while they were both on deployment to Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks. When she saw a flyer advertising the cemetery’s event, she felt compelled to attend because of the military’s significant impact on her life and family,
“It’s nice to be able to give back,” she said. “Everyone knows at least one person who was in the military.”
Kathy McGlone, president of the Evergreen Cemetery Association of Gainesville, Inc. board and daughter of a World War II veteran, has lived in Gainesville for nearly 30 years. She was recruited to the cemetery board due to her frequent visits.
“This is one of my peaceful places,” she said.
While McGlone loves to help organize the annual Memorial Day event to show support for fallen veterans, she said she also enjoys educating people about the cemetery.
“It’s an opportunity to get people into the cemetery who might not ever come here for any other reason,” she said.
Alachua County Veteran Services and the City of Gainesville will host a Memorial Day Ceremony at Evergreen Cemetery on Monday starting at 10:30 a.m. The cemetery is located at 401 SE 21st Ave. in Gainesville.