Cemetery wreaths for veterans branching out in Delaware
By GLENN ROLFE | Delaware State News | Associated Press | Published: December 7, 2019
MILLSBORO, Del. — Teresa Ziegler Townsend's eyes tear up when she thinks about the graves and the columbarium wall at Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
Overwhelming community response spurred by a National Wreaths Across America promotion in May means that no military veteran buried in the cemetery off Patriots Way will go un-noticed. "This year, 2019, will be the first year we're able remember and honor every veteran at the Millsboro Veterans Cemetery," said Ms. Ziegler Townsend, location coordinator for Wreaths Across America at Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
And there's great news out of the Harrington Historical Society whose first-year Wreaths Across America initiative has met its goal of 665 wreaths. On Dec. 14, wreaths will be placed on veterans' graves in two public cemeteries – Hollywood Cemetery east of Harrington and Williamsville Cemetery, an African American cemetery south of Houston – according to Harrington Historical Society curator Douglas Poore.
"It is our first year," said Mr. Poore. "We're excited about it." National Wreaths Across America Day this year is on Dec. 14, with a mission to remember, honor and teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,600 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states at sea and abroad.
Prior to National Wreaths Across America Day, Delaware's General Assembly will host Wreaths Across America on Monday, Dec. 9, at 11:30 a.m. on the east side of Legislative Hall in Dover, near the bronze sculpture of the Delaware Continentals.
This fifth annual event in the state capital will be part of a national commemoration. Ceremonies focus on the importance of remembering our fallen heroes, honoring those who serve, and teaching our children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedoms.
Volunteers conduct the WAA State House Ceremonies each year in their state capitals. "The General Assembly is pleased to be working together with the Delaware National Guard, Dover Air Force Base, and our veteran community on this kickoff to Wreaths Across America," said Mark Cutrona, Director of the Legislative Council's Division of Research and event coordinator.
The originator of the WAA program was Morrill Worcester, owner of a wreath-making company in Maine who in 1991 donated and delivered wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery to be placed on the graves of the fallen veterans.
Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery On Saturday, Dec. 14, approximately 3,000 wreaths will be placed on graves and at columbarium walls in the wreath laying ceremony in Millsboro, so every veteran will be honored. The volunteer effort will start at about 10:30 a.m., or possibly a little sooner, following brief instruction.
Last year, 2,115 wreaths were placed in two separate ceremonies in December. The second volunteer effort was staged because delivery of more than 700 wreaths was delayed. In honor of Military Appreciation Month this past May, National Wreaths Across America pledged to match every wreath sponsored through a fundraising group in the month of May. Community response was immense in support of sponsoring wreaths, at $15 apiece.
"It's very good news – a big 'thank you' to community and everyone that stepped up for sponsorships," said Ms. Ziegler Townsend. "All 4,000-plus veterans will be honored this year because of that generosity." Ms. Ziegler Townsend anticipates another huge volunteer turnout following last year's response.
"Last year just blew so much out of the water. We had the most children and youth groups that have ever shown up. The responses and phone calls that I have received is they are coming back again this year," Ms. Ziegler Townsend said. "And that's huge, because part of Wreath Across America's mission is to 'remember, honor and teach.' I have been in the schools a little bit more this year. I hope to do it a little bit more next year."
Family or friends wishing to personally place a wreath at the grave of a loved one can do so through the grave specific "Red Flag System," Ms. Ziegler Townsend said. That identifies that particular grave so other volunteers will leave wreath placement for family. "This started last year, and it worked phenomenally," said Ms. Ziegler Townsend.
On hand to assist volunteers if needed will be the cemetery staff. "They are volunteering – on their day off – helping and assisting," said Ms. Ziegler Townsend. Last year's match from National Wreaths Across America through Ms. Ziegler Townsend's fundraiser netted more than 1,000 free wreaths. Wreath sponsorships remain available and will roll over into next year.
To sponsor a wreath online, visit National Wreaths Across America website at: www.wreathsacrossamerica.org. On the main page there are options to sponsor wreaths, including a specific cemetery or a local fundraising group. Those wishing to participate in Ms. Ziegler Townsend's group, click on "Local Fundraising Group," pick the number of wreaths and enter Ms. Ziegler Townsend's group code, which is DE0016 – and click.
Harrington Historical Society Plans are to place the target goal – 665 wreaths – at Hollywood Cemetery and all others at veterans' graves at Williamsville Cemetery, said Mr. Poore. "We're taking the leftovers to make sure we cover Williamsville as well," Mr. Poore said.
Wreath laying on Dec. 14 will follow at mini-parade that starts at 9 a.m. at Burris Logistics in Harrington. Burris is delivering the wreaths to the Hollywood Cemetery in a wrapped/decorated trailer. In addition, Burris Logistics is going to "be coming on board as a national transportation partner with Wreaths Across America. They are going to become a major player," said Mr. Poore.
The Burris trailer will be escorted by police and a fire engine. "It's giving a proper escort for the wreaths as they come out here to be placed for our veterans that day," Mr. Poore said. The ceremony at Hollywood Cemetery will begin at noon. Parking is at a nearby church.
"We encourage everyone to get there between 11 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. We will be shuttling people to cemetery," said Mr. Poore. Harrington Historical Society's effort was supported by the local Girl Scouts, Harrington Parks and Rec and the First State Young Marines from First State Military Academy in Clayton. The First State Young Marines will provide the colors for the ceremony. "Between all of us we have raised the money to do this," said Mr. Poore.
"It's a very humbling experience to do," said Mr. Poore. "I've been to Arlington to do it. I am thrilled to bring it here for our veterans that are interred here in Harrington. It can be done at any public cemetery. So, I would encourage anybody who has a cemetery in their town … it's not hard work. And it's obviously very rewarding."
For more information on the Harrington Historical Society's Wreaths Across America initiative or the historical society in general, call 398-3698 or 670-6158.
WAA at Legislative Hall The Dec. 9 event in Dover will include Gov. John Carney, Adjutant General Michael Berry of the Delaware National Guard and Dover AFB Colonel Michael Peeler.
Other participants will include the Commission of Veterans Affairs, state and local elected officials, area veterans and families of all generations and children from Holy Cross Elementary School.
Dave Skocik, president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition, will again emcee the ceremony. Wreaths will be laid at seven locations throughout the capital by military and civilian officials accompanied by children. "We hope all Delawareans will join us for this event," said Mr. Cutrona.