Veterans’ sacrifices honored with wreaths, remembrance at Sand Springs cemetery

Tulsa World

Sharon Bishop-Baldwin • Dec 19, 2021 • Updated 2 hrs ago 

J.R. “Dick” McCracken was not yet 21 years old when he fought at Normandy in June of 1944, watching D-Day unfold from a ship the first day of the battle before going ashore with his unit on the second day.

McCracken marched across Europe for about a year and a half during World War II, ultimately receiving a Purple Heart for his valor and nearly losing part of a limb to trench foot before he was discharged.

But even though he died some 22 years ago — more than half a century after his service in the Army — his sacrifice is remembered still today.

His daughter, Darlene Sims, showed up in the cold wind Saturday morning at Woodland Memorial Park to place a simple wreath bedecked with a red bow on his grave.

“I still get emotional,” Sims, 70, said, choking back tears. “It’s sad.”

The wreath for McCracken was one of 108 placed Saturday on the graves of veterans at the Sand Springs cemetery. The wreath-laying was a cooperative effort of the Billie A. Hall American Legion Post 17 and Wreaths Across America.

Roughly 1,500 U.S. veterans are buried at Woodland Memorial Park, 1200 N. Cleveland Ave., but Post 17 organizers were generally pleased with the number of wreaths purchased by individuals and groups in the community for placement.

“It’s our first year” to participate in Wreaths Across America, said Karen Cruice, the Sand Springs post’s adjutant and the commander of the American Legion’s Tulsa-area District 1. “We’ll get better.”

Volunteers were asked to say the name inscribed on the gravestone as they placed a wreath on a veteran’s grave.

“We believe that a person dies twice — the first time when their heart stops beating and life leaves their body (and) the final time when their name is spoken for the very last time,” Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America, told the Sand Springs Leader previously.

“Placing the wreath and saying the name creates a teaching opportunity,” she said. “We believe that the best hope for the future of this freedom that we have been entrusted with is to teach kids the courage and character of those we honor.”

Cruice’s 20-year-old son, Ryan Cruice, and his girlfriend, Teonna Lewis, a junior at Berryhill High School, were among the volunteers placing wreaths on veterans’ graves Saturday.

Ryan Cruice admitted that he was there, in part, “because of my mom,” but he added that his efforts also were about “honoring the reason that they served.”

“It’s about honoring the ones that went before — their legacy and the sacrifices they made for the freedoms we get to enjoy,” he said.

His mother echoed his words during a ceremony held in the Dillon Funeral Home chapel at the cemetery as part of the event.

“The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price,” Karen Cruice said. “Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear.”

She said the wreaths placed on the graves Saturday are “gifts of appreciation from a grateful America.”

Cruice also reflected on the last part of the mission of Wreaths Across America, a national organization that endeavors to remember the fallen, honor those that serve and their families, and teach children the cost and value of freedom.

Quoting President Ronald Reagan, she said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States, where men were free.”