LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — A Kansas City-based veteran support group is raising money to buy wreaths to lay on veterans' graves at Leavenworth National Cemetery this holiday season.
Every year, Team Fidelis sponsors section 50 of the cemetery. The group aims to raise enough money to lay a wreath on all 956 graves in that section.
The group's leaders chose that section for a special reason: it's where Elias Michael Wade is laid to rest.
Elias' father, Dustin, has been part of Team Fidelis since 2017 when Elias died.
"Elias was a beautiful person," Dustin said. "Strong, educated, a warrior and a poet."
A warrior and a poet. Those words adorn Elias' headstone.
He lived between those two worlds: he was a wrestler and a blue belt in jiu-jitsu, but he also loved to write, play guitar and sing.
Elias' dad said he was born with an adventurous heart. He loved the wilderness and loved to challenge himself.
That's why the Marine Corps was a natural fit.
Elias joined the Marines in 2013, traveling the world for training before ending up as a field radio operator in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
On April 25, 2017, at the age of 22, he died by suicide.
"Life is fragile. The men and women that serve in our great military, armed forces, we shouldn't take them for granted," Dustin said.
Elias now rests at Leavenworth National Cemetery, along with thousands of other fallen heroes.
"If you just look around and think about all of these people that served their country that are laid here, the legacy that they have left, it's very humbling," Daniel Brazzell, executive director of Team Fidelis, said.
Team Fidelis is one of the hundreds of groups across the country that raises money for wreaths, through a program called Wreaths Across America.
"We come out here, we lay wreaths down at each one of the graves, and we say their name out loud, so that they're never forgotten," Brazzell said.
Dustin added, "When you see a wreath placed on your loved one's headstone, it gives you a great sense of comfort and honor to know that somebody has recognized them, has remembered them."
For Dustin, it's just one more way to honor his son. It gives him a chance to tell Elias' stories, like the time he carried a fellow Marine up a mountain when he couldn't walk any farther; or the time he left notes around his base, letting people know they were loved.
"Every single story is a treasure," Dustin said.
To donate a wreath, visit Team Fidelis' page on the Wreaths Across America website.
Team Fidelis is also looking for volunteers to help lay wreaths on Dec.18. Contact Team Fidelis for more information.