By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — Dozens of volunteers braved the chilly December air on Saturday to place 431 donated wreaths on graves in the veterans’ section of Forest Glade Cemetery.
It was all part of Wreaths Across America, which coordinates the donations and wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 2,700 locations across the United States, at sea and abroad.
In a brief noontime ceremony on Saturday, Wakefield Cemetery, Forestry and Park Divisions Supervisor Dennis Fazio welcomed and thanked the volunteers.
“Right now, across the country at more than 2,700 memorial sites like this one, we are gathered as one nation to remember, honor and teach,” Fazio said. “We are all proud to be Americans that live in a free society made up of many people, from many walks of life.
“The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price,” he added. “Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear. We can worship as we see fit. We can raise our children to believe as we do. We can travel from one end of this great nation to the other and not have to ask permission to go. We are free to vote for whomever we feel should be in government office, with no explanation needed. We have the right to succeed and we have the right to fail at whatever endeavor we wish to pursue.
“The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality,” Fazio continued. “Our Nation stands as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom to the world. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we shall not forget you. We shall remember.
“Many of you here today are Veterans of wars and conflicts that America has had to fight to protect the innocent and oppressed,” Fazio observed. “This nation has always been the first to stand up for the freedom of people from around the world. Many of you here today have answered that call and served your country well. We are here today to say ‘Thank you’ and we are honored to know you.
“There are many men and women serving today in all branches of the military, here at home and in places far away that most of us have never heard of. These men and women are part of the best-trained, best-equipped force in the world. We honor them and their families for the sacrifices they make each day to keep our country safe from terrorism, hatred and injustice,” Fazio said.
He then quoted Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States. “‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.’
“Today,” Fazio concluded, “we show a united front of gratitude and respect across the United States of America as we remember the fallen, honor those who serve and teach our children the value of freedom.”
Fazio introduced Town Council Chair Julie Smith-Galvin.
“It’s important to remember everything that the veterans – fallen and otherwise – do for us as a town and as a country,” Smith Galvin said. “It’s a time to honor and remember them.”
Jay Pinette, chairman of the Veterans Advisory Board, commented on the importance of remembering those who have served as well as those who are currently serving.
“When we sit down for Christmas, remember there are those who will not be home for Christmas,” Pinette said. “They’ll be serving around the world in our all-volunteer armed forces.”
Pinette also touched on another aspect of the Wreaths Across America program: teaching younger generations about the value of their freedoms and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms.
On Saturday, eight wreaths were displayed on stands representing the United States and each branch of the Armed Services: The Marine Corps, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard and the Space Force as well as POWs. Pinette then called upon designated individuals to place flags on each of the wreaths.
Following the ceremony, Pinette gave the go-ahead for the volunteers to begin placing the wreaths. He asked that they take a moment at each grave to recite the name of service member who lies there, offer a silent prayer and thank them for their service.
Wreaths Across America began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine found itself with the surplus of wreaths. Remembering his boyhood visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., owner Morrill Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. Arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.
As plans were underway, a number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes.
In 2007, the Worcester family, along with veterans, and other groups and individuals who had helped with their annual veterans wreath ceremony in Arlington, formed Wreaths Across America, a non-profit 501-(c)(3) organization, to continue and expand this effort, and support other groups around the country who wanted to do the same.