It was a little after noon Saturday and the Philadelphia National Cemetery in West Oak Lane was silent but for the sound of combat boots crunching in fresh snowfall.

It was a reverent silence as about 40 people prepared to honor 2,600 deceased veterans as part of a national call to action by Wreaths Across America.

Every December, they place wreaths on grave sites to pay homage to those who served and sacrificed.

The solemn event is repeated at 1,100 sites across the country and abroad. It has taken place in Philadelphia for eight years, said Andrew Notarfrancesco, local coordinator and a squadron leader with the Civil Air Patrol.

On Saturday, he reminded volunteers that they had gathered to honor the memories of those "who served and are serving."

He encouraged volunteers to write down the names of the veterans and research them. "They were and are more than just a statistic," Notarfrancesco said.

Despite brisk temperatures and rain, Saturday's was the largest turnout since the local branch started the observance, he said.

Veterans were joined by children, students, and cadets. Members of the nonprofit Team RWB, a veterans' support group, participated, too, along with the 111th Attack Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, and members of the Philadelphia Area Chevrolet Dealers, which donated 1,800 wreaths.

"It proves a lot that they came out in this weather," said Marie Knuttel, who was there to support the veterans and her son, Joseph, who is a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol squadron.

Mrs. Pennsylvania America 2016, April Walker-Taylor, was in attendance, joining Shonda Goodwin, Mrs. Montgomery County.

"Usually we have on crowns and heels, but we changed to Uggs and boots to be here," Walker-Taylor said.

The moment of silence left her feeling "very emotional, a feeling of gratitude and humility," she said, adding that the event was an opportunity to support the veterans and to show gratitude for their sacrifices.

When it comes to prisoners of war or those missing in action, Goodwin said, "I can't imagine not having that closure. Especially this time of year, it makes me pray for their loved ones."

Notarfrancesco said a lot of people do not know about the Philadelphia National Cemetery, which houses grave sites dating from the Civil War. He takes cadets there because it "makes history real for them," Notarfrancesco said.

Dana White brought her daughter and her St. Basil Academy peers.

"I think that's important for the children to practice what they're taught at school," she said. "We can say it all day long, but we need to get behind it."

Her daughter, Tess, 16, has already committed to writing about it next year in her school paper, the Basilian Pillar.

When it comes to veterans relations, Notarfrancesco said he has noticed an increase in awareness.

"Last 10 years, we've made sure we started to recognize our veterans," he said.

More should be done to help rehabilitate and reassimilate veterans, said Jim Graber, athletic event coordinator for Team RWB, which engages veterans through physical and social activity.

"I came home from the military and I was fine," he said. "But I have a family member who was in the Marine Corps who suffers from PTSD."

In the cold, the volunteers gripped cups of coffee to help warm their hands as they worked. Within an hour, they had placed all 2,600 wreaths of evergreen clippings on graves. Then they came together in visible satisfaction to pose for a picture.

Among them was Damon Bates, 51, who joined the military when he was 18. He has traveled extensively, including to the Philippines and Australia, and credits his service with helping usher him into manhood. But what he loves most is the military's principle of paying it forward.

"Any member that served, they need to be taken care of," Bates said. "What they did is the ultimate self-sacrifice."

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