LOW GAP – Eight years ago, James Reese traveled to Family Memorial Gardens here to attend the funeral of SPC Scotty Ulbrich.
Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, Reese returned to the same cemetery in this tiny community to honor Ulbrich and other Boone County veterans.
Barbara Ulbrich chose Reese to lay a wreath on her son’s grave Saturday, which marked National Wreaths across America Day.
“This is my first time back since the funeral,” said Reese, who now is a major with the West Virginia Army National Guard. “I’m honored she invited me to help. It isn’t something I will ever forget.”
Reese was Ulbrich’s platoon leader at Fort Carson in Colorado. They immediately hit it off because both were West Virginia natives, with Reese hailing from Buckhannon in Upshur County and Ulbrich hailing from Manila in Boone County.
“I knew him very well,” Reese said of Ulbrich, a Scott High School graduate who was only one semester short of graduating from Marshall University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice when he enlisted in the Army in January 2004. “I knew him very well. I trained him and prepared him before he went to Iraq.”
Ulbrich and two other soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) on June 5, 2005 in Iraq, where he was a 23-year-old private first class and calvary scout stationed about 35 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Reese accompanied Ulbrich’s body back to Boone County and protected it before the funeral.
“As soon as I found out he had died, I volunteered for that mission,” Reese said. “I felt it was something I needed to do.”
The ceremony at Family Memorial Gardens was the first of its kind in Boone County, and Barbara Ulbrich plans to make it an annual event.
“We need donations to purchase more wreaths and honor more soldiers each year,” she said.
Wreaths across America is a Maine-based organization, and its mission statement is to “remember the fallen, honor those who serve and their families, and teach our children the value of freedom.”
Bundled in winter clothes, more than 50 people attended Saturday’s ceremony in which wreaths were placed on the graves of 18 of the 126 veterans who are buried there.
“We are here today to honor and remember the fallen, the prisoners of war, the missing in action and all of those who have served or are serving in the Armed Forces of this great nation,” Rev. Ralph Perry said.
Boy Scouts Pack 289 members Carson Brinegar, Jake Kinder, Blayne Kuhn and Wyatt Zornes placed American flags on all of the veterans’ graves. They also distributed programs and recited the Pledge of Allegiance with Madalyn Whited, who is one of Scotty Ulbrich’s two nieces.
“Although they were cold and wet, and as 7 year olds they didn’t fully understand the significance, they still showed respect to our veterans,” said Shelley Brinegar, whose son was one of the Tiger Cubs to participate. “I’m very proud of those boys, and I hope today is something they alway remember.”
When Perry asked everyone to bow their heads in a moment of silence, the only sound was the mixture of rain and snow pelting the blue Family Memorial Gardens tent that protected about a fourth of the crowd from the wet weather. Others huddled under umbrellas.
Members of the local Civil Air Patrol participated in the ceremony, which also drew about 10 troopers and deputies from the West Virginia State Police and Boone County Sheriff’s Department, respectively.
Among those in attendance was state Senator Ron Stollings.
“We certainly can’t forget our fallen heroes who have kept us free,” said Stollings, who is a doctor with Madison Medical Group. “There isn’t a family that isn’t affected by the military and hasn’t grieved the loss of a family member. West Virginia and Boone County have given more than their share.”
Ulbrich said Wreaths across America is an important project for the West Virginia chapter of Gold Star Mothers, whose members have lost sons or daughters to military combat.
“Remember the fallen who gave up their tomorrows with family and loved ones,” Ulbrich said, pausing for a minute to compose herself and continue reading a quote from the Wreaths across America website, “so that we can enjoy our todays.”
Contact Ulbrich at GSMom2005@yahoo.com to donate to the cause. Additional information about the organizations is available at https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ and http://www.goldstarmoms.com/.