Veterans in Wreaths Across America ceremonies

Veterans in Wreaths Across America ceremonies

  •  Updated 

WASHINGTON TWP. — Long Valley continued its annual tradition of honoring its veterans by laying wreaths on their gravesites as part of Wreaths Across America on Saturday, Dec. 16.

After a ceremony at noon, at the Parish Hall at St. Mark the Evangelist on Spring Street, volunteers fanned out to the five cemeteries in Long Valley to place 383 wreaths on the graves of veterans. It is the eighth year that the town has joined in on a national remembrance of veterans and their sacrifices.

“It’s a great tradition,’’ said Committeeman Kenneth Short, who was also an Army reservist. “I was watching television this morning and they had Arlington (Cemetery) on showing tens of thousands of sites out there with the wreaths on them. It’s a thankfulness to the people who have served.

“It gives that little distinction, that little special thing on the holidays. It’s very emotional to me. It is a great program to have going.’’

The event has been sponsored the last few years by the Long Valley Knights of Columbus.

“It’s an opportunity for the community to get involved and recognize the veterans,’’ Long Valley Knights of Columbus Trustee Michael Lennon said. “It feels like there is a greater sense of patriotism. Their involvement is picking up.’’

Wreaths Across America was brought to the township eight 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).

“When they first did the project they were in the 200 range (for wreaths) said Mayor Matthew Murello. “Every year they find more graves and identify more veterans. It’s not that we are losing more veterans. We are identifying more of the older ones. This town cherishes our 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 and arranged for extra wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery.

The practice soon became an annual tribute. It went on quietly for 13 years. In 2005, a photograph of the rows and rows of graves at the national cemetery adorned with snow-covered wreaths circulated on the Internet. It drew so much attention that Wreaths Across America was created in 2007.

The event has become special not only for those remembering the veterans in their lives but those who have served.

“I think it is just recognition of the sacrifice a lot of veterans have made for the country,’’ Long Valley resident and Army Veteran Paul Richartz said. “People appreciate that so they come out and the support us. Particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice.’’

On Saturday, thousands of people nationwide attended ceremonies and planted wreaths. Long Valley’s ceremony included a bagpipe performance by Mary Wood Russell, the National Anthem sung by Maggie Schaffer, an invocation by chaplain Tim Kelly, remarks from Lennon, Thomas McBride, the commander of American Veterans Association Post 1776 and Mayor Murrelo.

Ceremonial wreaths were placed by members representing the different branches of the Armed Forces: Korean War Veteran Don Cable for the Navy, John Krayniak for the Army, Washington Township Police Officer Frank Giaquinto for the Marines, Lucy Cohn for the Coast Guard, John Wierbrowski for the Air Force, Charles Van Stone for the Merchant Marines, John Jones for the Space Force.

Navy veteran Larry Oppel placed a wreath in remembrance of West Morris Central graduate Larry Maysey of the Air Force who is Missing in Action in Laos.

Army veteran Charlie Dauchert placed a wreath in remembrance of Richard Lacey his friend and unit member who is MIA in Vietnam.

Dan Bigos of the Knights of Columbus played Taps. Wreaths Across America Chairs Lennon, Bernie Schettino and Frank Barnes gave instruction on wreath placement. Then the volunteers left to place wreaths which were provided at the cemeteries.

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 Avenue. The Union Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of two Revolutionary War veterans.

At Our Lady of the Mountain cemetery, Denise Aussicker watched her 11-year-old son John place a wreath on World War II veteran Theodore Tucker’s grave, say his name out loud and give him a salute.

“I think its’s a great opportunity for him to learn and understand the veterans and show them respect,’’ Aussicker said. “I think all kids should get involved. I think it is a great program.’’

The Parvatharha family, who live not far from Our Lady of the Mountain, took the opportunity to make it a teaching moment for their children.

“I wanted to make sure that we were taking care of our veterans,’’ Sashi Parvatharha said.”I want them to understand the sacrifices people have made to keep us free.’’

Mark Kitchin