Tuesday, December 06, 2016

TOP STORY >> Funds help honor graves of soldiers

First Arkansas Bank and Trust donated $16,000 to the Wreaths Across America program during a ceremony with Gold Star families on Monday morning at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery on Maryland Avenue in Sherwood.

The Christmas wreaths will be placed on every headstone in the cemetery, approximately 5,000, on Saturday, Dec. 17 by family members of those buried, but the public is welcome to participate.

About 3,400 wreaths had been sold or donated until First Arkansas Bank agreed to purchase 1,600 more wreaths to include all headstones at the cemetery.

Angela Beason is a boardmember with the Arkansas Run for the Fallen, a nonprofit that honors Arkansans who have died in service to the nation and is coordinating the wreaths program locally.

“I am so very, very honored and excited to say that First Arkansas Bank and Trust has made a donation of $16,000 to sponsor wreaths and every veteran’s headstone will receive a wreath this year,” Beason said.

Beason, a math teacher at Cabot High School, first started working with the wreaths program two years ago. But because of the bank’s donation, this will be the first time all of the gravestones will receive wreaths.

First Arkansas Bank and Trust president and CEO Larry Wilson, said, “We are excited to participate in this appreciation of our veterans and to demonstrate that we continue to acknowledge the contributions veterans have made to our community and to our country.”

Wilson and his son, Mark, the bank’s senior vice president and chief credit officer, presented the check, along with other bank executives.

“We have some of the family members represented here today whose sons and husbands and fathers are buried here at this cemetery. We have been a proud supporter of our veterans for many, many years. We began operation on (Little Rock Air Force Base) in 1955 when the base opened. And have been very supportive of the active duty and veterans in the area ever since so it was only right that we try to help the Arkansas Run for the Fallen to make this happen,” Wilson said at the ceremony.

The Gold Star family members attending the ceremony included Vicky Fowler, whose son, Marine Cpl. Justin Fowler of Little Rock, is buried at the cemetery. He died in an accident in Okinawa, Japan, in 2011.

Pam Wassom of Cabot, the mother of Master Sgt. Dan Wassom, 31, was also at the ceremony with other family members. The sergeant, a loadmaster with the Arkansas Air National Guard’s 189th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, died protecting his daughters, 5 and 7, with his wife, Suzanne, when a tornado ripped through Vilonia, killing 16 people in April 2014.

The family of Cpl. Loren Miles Buffalo, 20, of Mountain Pine (Garland County) was also represented at the ceremony. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in March 2011.

Relatives of Army Chief Warrant Officer Patrick Kordsmeier, 43, of North Little Rock were also at the cemetery. He died in a rocket attack in Iraq in April 2004.

“We stepped up to make sure that all our veterans are properly honored during this holiday season. We are two days from the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and it really brings us home to think about the sacrifices that have been made for the benefit of us and the freedoms that we enjoy here in our country,” Wilson said.

Roger Sundermeier, marketing director for First Arkansas Bank, said, “This marks the first year that all headstones in the Sherwood cemetery will be provided a wreath, which makes it a huge milestone for the Wreaths Across America and Arkansas Run for the Fallen program.

“As the Military Bank of the Year for the Air Force, and with or roots being in a military town, it makes great sense for First Arkansas Bank and Trust to step up to provide this funding. Beyond that, it’s just the right thing to do,” Sundermeier said.