On December 17. 2022 the “Wreaths Across America ” program was presented by the American Veterans Association of Washington TWP and the Long Valley Knights of Columbus at St Mark’s Church.
WASHINGTON TWP. — Citizens once again paid tribute to military veterans during the national Wreaths Across America Program on Saturday, Dec. 17.
Nearly 100 audience members attended ceremonies in the parish hall at the St. Mark the Evangelist’s Parish Hall, where veterans from all branches of the armed forces laid ceremonial wreaths. Afterwards, attendees fanned out to local cemeteries to place American flags and wreaths on a total of 380 veterans’ graves.
Michael Lennon of the Long Valley Knights of Columbus said this year’s event “went very, very well.”
“We had a lot of cooperation from the town,” he said. “We reached our goal in late November. We were able to contribute about 30 wreaths to the drive at Arlington National Cemetery, plus we retained a few in the bank to ease some of the fundraising pressure for next year.’’
Wreaths Across America was brought to the township seven years ago by Sarah Guida as part of her Girl Scout Gold Star initiative. After she left for college at Virginia Tech, the act of continuing it gained support through Township officials, Police Chief Jeffrey Almer, the Long Valley Knights of Columbus and the American Veterans Association of Washington Township 1776 (AVAWT).
There are five major cemeteries in Long Valley where war veterans are buried, the German Valley Cemetery on Coleman Road, the Middle Valley Cemetery at West Mill Road and Beacon Hill Road, the Our Lady of the Mountain Cemetery on Schooley’s Mountain Road, the Pleasant Grove Cemetery on Califon Road and the Old Stone Union Hill Cemetery on Fairview Road. The Union Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of two Revolutionary War veterans.
Wreaths Across America was initiated in 1992, when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, found his business had a surplus of wreaths. Remembering a boyhood experience from a visit to Washington D.C., Worcester, with the aid of then-Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arranged for the extra wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery.
The practice soon became an annual tribute. It went on quietly for 13 years, with more and more volunteers and organizations stepping up each year to provide and lay more wreaths at Arlington.
Then, in 2005, a photograph of the rows and rows of graves at the national cemetery adorned with snow-covered wreaths circulated on the internet, drawing attention from individuals and groups around the country either wanting to help with the Arlington effort, or wishing to emulate the act of laying wreaths at their national or state cemetery. As a result, Wreaths Across America was created in 2007.
“I take a tremendous amount of pride in taking care of the veterans in Washington Township,’’ said Vietnam veteran Charlie Dauchert of Post 1776, who takes an active role in the event. “It’s very important to make them understand, especially the children, that anyone who wears a uniform in the United States and has given their time, whether they were in the reserves, or regular army, or any branch they have always given their time away from their families, particularly this time of year.’’
The program has also gotten full support from the municipality which considers the event a tradition worth preserving.
“What makes Washington Township so special is that we don’t just get involved with some of these big national issues, we really care about our own,’’ said Mayor Matt Murello, who attended the event. “We care about the people that served in this town that made the ultimate sacrifice.
“That’s what today is about, recognizing people locally and all the people that support the event. You don’t just have the Knights of Columbus and veterans. Every one of those wreaths was purchased by someone privately. You have 300 some odd wreaths purchased at $10 each.
“Every person in this town that purchased those wreaths is making a statement that they support the veterans of this town and that is really what is most important today.’’
The Dec. 18 ceremony was brief and poignant. There was a color guard. Mary Wood Russell played the bagpipes and Maggie Schaffer sang the national anthem. An invocation was given by Army veteran Tim Kelly and opening remarks were provided by AVAWT Post 1776 Commander and Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Thomas McBride.
After a speech by Murello, ceremonial wreaths were presented by individuals who have served in the various branches of the armed forces. Korean War veteran Don Cable presented for the Navy, Bernie Schettino for the Army, Police Officer Frank Giaquinto for the Marines, Lucie Cohn for the Coast Guard, Tom Sanders for the Air Force, Navy veteran John Larkin and cadet Alex Banning for the Coast Guard.
Navy veteran Larry Oppel placed a wreath in memory of Chester’s Larry Maysey, a West Morris Central High School graduate and Air Force member Missing in Action in Laos during the Vietnam War. Army veteran Chuck Dauchert placed a wreath in remembrance of Army Specialist Richard Lacey, a member of his unit missing in action in South Vietnam.
Prior to the wreath placement, Lennon explained to the 100 or so audience members what to do: Place a wreath on the ground in front of a tombstone marked by an American flag, render proper honors if in uniform, say the veteran’s name and take a moment to reflect and remember. After that attendees fanned out to the cemetery of their choice.
Banning, who is a cadet at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine, as part of their Strategic Sea Lift and Shipment Program, said young people in Long Valley may have learned from the program to appreciate the veterans sacrifices more than those in other parts of the country. The Strategic Sea Lift program is a reserve program that supplies officers who can man supply vessels for the fleet.
“I love the program,’’ Banning said of Wreaths Across America. “I think it’s great. I’m so happy that so many people in town are honoring the veterans. I think especially this town. A lot of the kids, my friends, and kids I’ve talked to know what it means to be a veteran and know what it means to serve your country.’’
Long Valley’s Egan family, Alexander, Lisa and their children Eleanor, Abigail, Alexander and Elizabeth, were among several families laying wreaths at the Our Lady of the Mountain cemetery on Schooley’s Mountain Road. The Egans usually attend the ceremony although they missed it last year.
“Their grandparents (William Egan, Ronald Hahn) served in the military,’’ Lisa Egan said. “It’s important to my husband and I that they understand as children being raised in the United States of America how important it is to respect those who have served and who gave their lives in sacrifice for us.’’
The event also drew first-time participants, including Long Valley’s Sean and Vance Mahoney were there. They represented Long Valley Cub Scout Pack 136 and laid wreaths at Our Lady.
“I wanted to support all the veterans we’ve lost over the years and everything that they did for our country,’’ said 10-year-old Vance. They protected everybody here and around the US.’’
Now that they have attended the ceremony, the Mahoneys might make it an annual event around the holidays.
“It’s a nice ceremony for everyone to see,’’ Sean Mahoney said. “I like that there were so many kids that came out to the initial ceremony at St. Mark’s.
“The way the Knights of Columbus broke it out for different cemeteries to come out and do this little bit of work to help people remember what the veterans did. I think that it is great thing for the town.’’