By Anna Meiler

BROCKTON (CBS) – Volunteers placed some 1,500 wreaths on the graves of soldiers Friday morning, in a act of gratitude and patriotism.

A small mountain of holiday wreaths was carefully placed at the graves of heroes in Brockton’s Melrose Cemetery on North Pearl Street. “Just Checking In”, the Brockton group behind the tradition, organized the tribute.

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Wreaths for veterans at Brockton cemetery (WBZ-TV/Juli McDonald)

“That first time when you’re laying the wreath, and you’re looking at the dates and you see the veteran and what war they were in, you become speechless, but then very emotional,” Mary Waldron said.

The beautiful Brockton tradition is in its third year – a simple but moving gesture, to local heroes laid to rest.

“We have the freedom to say and do these things, to have a voice. To do good. It is because of them,” Mary said. “It’s important to check in with people. Life is way, way, way too short.”

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Volunteers lay wreaths on soldiers’ graves at Melrose Cemetery in Brockton. (WBZ-TV)

Mary knows that better than most; she lost her husband, her best friend John, five years ago – suddenly. “Just Checking In”, modeled after his kind spirit, benefits Brockton students and other local charities.

“He would check in with friends and family and just say how they’re doing,” Mary says. “That’s something we all as human beings need to be doing more of.”

And in the busy – sometimes chaotic – holiday season, the group finds true meaning in these quiet moments honoring men and women who gave so much.

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“It is what it’s all about,” Mary says. “I feel my husband, who was not a veteran. But I feel in his name, his motto of ‘just checking in’, that we’re paying it forward.”

Anna Meiler