Wreaths Across America applauds the efforts of our volunteers across this great nation. When we engage young people in our mission they are sure to teach others about respect and gratitude. Wreaths Across America Location Leader Sarah Greiner provides this account of National Wreath Day at the cemetery she signed up to become a participating location. Thank you to all of the scouting groups for your patriotism and pride.
On Saturday, December 16, St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Alexandria joined 1,421 other cemeteries in this country where wreaths are laid on the graves of veterans of the Armed Services to remember and honor them and to teach our children to treasure the freedoms our servicemen and women defend.
I am the Den Leader for two dens of Scouts in St. Rita Cub Scout Pack 522. We had previously gone to Arlington National Cemetery on Wreaths Across America Day, but found that there were often so many volunteers that our Pack was not able to lay any wreaths (a good problem to have as a nation, but not as a Den Leader with eager little boys).
Since our American Heritage Girls were already very involved in soliciting donations for wreaths at Alexandria National Cemetery, we decided to adopt another cemetery for our community service project. My oldest son had done a report in 4th grade on "a famous Virginian" and had chosen Colonel John Fitzgerald, George Washington's Aide-de-Camp during the Revolutionary War (or one of them at least, and some would say his favorite), who was the founder of St. Mary Parish, the oldest Catholic parish in, at that time, a combined Virginia and West Virginia.
The story of how the Church came to be built was so fascinating that I thought all the boys would enjoy learning about it, and so we took a field trip to the Local History/Special Collections room at the Barrett branch of the library to conduct some research on the founding of the church and cemetery. We also took a hike to the center of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, which overlooks the cemetery, to get an overview of its size. It is small, which suits our Pack of 5 Scouts, and contains the graves of at least 195 American veterans dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. A list of those veterans and the locations of their graves had been compiled as an Eagle Scout project by a Scout in St. Mary's Troop 301, and the Cub Scouts of Pack 301 made that available to us, in addition to generously helping us with anything else that we asked for.
Once we signed the Cemetery up as a new location, we became responsible for the opening ceremony (something I had not anticipated), and we needed to raise donations for wreaths for 195 graves. I found the former responsibility somewhat terrifying, as I believe these things need to be done right, but I had no experience doing them. Fortunately, we have experience participating in our City's Memorial Day and Veterans Day commemorations, and I knew that reaching out to people to get them to help me would not be difficult.
As for the wreath donations, we set a modest goal to begin with: one wreath for every seven graves. But when we met our goal the first day we were out soliciting, we decided to try for a wreath per grave, that is, we decided to try to raise the money for 195 wreaths. We ended up receiving donations for 164 wreaths, thanks to the generosity of the people who shop at the Bradlee Center, the people who shop at the Fairlington Farmer's Market, and the parishioners of St. Mary Church. Our Pack purchased an additional 13 wreaths so that we would have enough for each grave whose location had been identified, using one wreath for two vets in the cases where two vets were sharing a headstone, plus two additional ceremonial wreaths to honor the Revolutionary War Patriots (WAA sends 7 ceremonial wreaths to honor the 5 Armed Services branches, the Merchant Marines, and the POW/MIA).
The help I trusted would come soon poured in. The Cub Scouts of Pack 882 in Fairfax, VA volunteered to help us lay wreaths. Their Webelos Den Leader, Colin Dorrity, is a former Marine and a policeman. He was able to recruit participants for our ceremony, in addition to volunteering to participate himself. The participants who lay the ceremonial wreaths need to be active duty or veterans of the branches for which they are laying a wreath.
The Boy Scouts of Troop 50 out of Holy Spirit parish in Annandale, VA volunteered to help lay wreaths. They agreed to come out to the cemetery early to help set up and to act as guides for our wreath layers (wreath laying in a civilian cemetery involves charts and maps--a good Boy Scout project).
The Boy Scouts of Troop 1887 out of American Legion Post 177 in Fairfax, VA also volunteered to help. They performed the important task of laying our "in honor of" and "in memory of" wreaths. Since we are small, we can take these requests, but, again, we need to do it right. I witnessed a few of the boys laying an "in honor of" wreath. They did it with reverence.
My husband's former boss, Col. Richard Johns, US Army, retired, secured a Joint Forces Color Guard and a Marine Corps bugler for the ceremony, in addition to finding some additional wreath laying participants. He was indispensable on Saturday, giving instructions to the participants about their placement, timing, and role. He also got us to include information about the participants and the Color Guard in our program, making a more intimate connection with them for the people who attended.
Lt. General Paul Mikolashek and his wife Jan, parishioners of St. Mary Church, along with their grandson Thomas, a Scout, made the nine ceremonial wreaths in the cold, affixing the appropriate flags to each.
Finally, Fr. Edward Hathaway, pastor of St. Mary Church and a huge supporter of our project from the beginning, came out to give the invocation and final prayer. In all, it was quite an impressive ceremony, despite problems with the PA system, the bathroom, the power outlets, the wind, and the cold.
Photos courtesy of John Lilly and Jeremy Greiner