Every time U.S. Army Spc. Christopher J. Moon called his mom Marsha Moon from Afghanistan, he asked her to pray for his men.
That was characteristic of the Tucson High School baseball star who hit .462 and compiled an 8-2 pitching record as a senior. He accepted a scholarship to the University of Arizona but left after one semester to enlist in the military.
The decision baffled his coaches and his family — but only temporarily. Deep down, everyone who knew Chris Moon knew his tendency to put others first. He wanted to serve his country.
The last time Marsha Moon spoke to her son, a sniper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, he asked her to pray for him, acknowledging he was being shot at daily.
"I think that was his way of telling me, I might not make it home,'" Moon says.
Chris Moon was killed by a roadside bomb at the age of 20 on July 13, 2010. In the midst of her grief, his mother decided she would not give up. She would give back.
It's what her son would have wanted.
So Moon joined the Tucson chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., an organization for women who have lost children in U.S. military service. The organization and its members focus on honoring veterans and their sacrifices.
In 2012, Moon joined two other Gold Star Mothers in Tucson who were partnering with the national nonprofit Wreaths Across America with the goal of placing a live balsam wreath on every veteran's grave during the holidays.
Moon is trying to raise enough money to place 2,100 wreaths on veteran graves at East Lawn Palms Cemetery, near Grant Road and Craycroft Road, where Chris is buried. Each year she has doubled her goal. Wreaths cost $15 each and so far she has enough for about 1,200.
You can help by sponsoring a wreath before Dec. 3. Learn more about how to do that here.
"Our soldiers have died, but they can't be forgotten," says Sheron Jones, the president of the Tucson chapter of American Gold Star Mothers. "That's the whole thing with Wreaths Across America: Remembering our soldiers who have died for our country. It helps me put a smile on my face, saying, 'We're never going to forget our veterans.'"
Jones lost her 43-year-old son Staff Sgt. Darrel D. Kasson in 2007 in Iraq. Kasson was just months away from retiring from the Army National Guard Reserve when he died, Jones says, adding that her son often prayed over other soldiers.
She wants to place 1,500 wreaths on veteran graves at Evergreen Cemetery where Kasson is buried. So far, she has raised enough money for about 1,000. She estimates that Evergreen has about 15,000 veteran graves.
On Dec. 15, cemeteries around the country, including three in Tucson, will host wreath-laying ceremonies beginning at 10 a.m.
Maria Marin's goal of 1,300 wreaths at Holy Hope Cemetery will honor her son, Sgt. Martin A. Lugo Jr., and other veterans. Lugo, an Army Ranger, was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 19, 2010 at the age of 24.
Marin, a school principal, recalls the pep talks her son would give her on hard days.
"If I was ever really tired or discouraged, he'd say, 'Mom, don't forget that you're a tough chick. I do what I do so you can do what you do,'" she says.
So she continues on, educating children and serving veterans.
"Part of my healing process was to honor my son but also to bring awareness to the community of all that has been sacrificed through the generations, through many wars, by men, women and families," Marin says. "My son is representative of all of our veterans."
The ceremonies on Dec. 15 are open to the public. Rain or shine, this tradition continues, Marin says.
"What we do has always been about families and honoring and remembering every single person," says Michelle Garcia, the location manager at East Lawn Palms Cemetery. "When there is a chance to remember and honor someone, especially a veteran, that's a huge focus for us ... This is like a tradition for us."
This tradition, like others around the holidays, carries bittersweet memories of years past. Moon recalls the last Christmas she spent with her son in December 2009.
Although the family had anticipated him coming home briefly in December, they still hadn't heard from him on Christmas morning.
"And it was just a somber morning and we couldn't do anything because he wasn't here, and all of a sudden around 10 or 11 a.m. we get a phone call from him, and he's huffing and puffing ... and he's all, 'They're holding a flight for me. I don't know my flight number, but I'm coming home'..." Moon recalls. "We called family members and got our clothes on and went to the airport, and I'll tell you that was, to us, a gift. And a gift I'll never forget because that was the last Christmas we got to spend with him."
Wreaths Across America is her way of remembering and thanking her son and other veterans and offering solace to their families.
"The holidays are very hard," Moon says. "So I just thought this was such an honoring thing to give back to other families and do something that's meaningful. We get to lay wreaths on their graves and remember them."
To sponsor a wreath at East Lawn Palms Mortuary and Cemetery, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org/AZELPC
To sponsor a wreath at Evergreen Mortuary and Cemetery, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org/AZEGCT
To sponsor a wreath at Holy Hope Cemetery, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org/AZHHCT
If you go
What: Wreath-laying ceremony to honor veterans
When: Saturday, Dec. 15, 10 a.m.
For more information, go here.