Long Valley Honors Vets with Wreaths Across America

Observer Tribune 12/23/21

WASHINGTON TWP. – Long Valley continued one of its newest holiday traditions on Saturday, Dec. 18 when volunteers placed 370 wreaths at the grave sites of veterans as part of the annual national Wreaths Across America ceremonies.

The event honors individuals who served in the armed forces in times of war and peace. After a ceremony held at St. Mark The Evangelist‘s Parish Hall on Spring Lane, volunteers fanned out to different burial sites around Washington Township to honor those who once served the country now resting peacefully.

“The reason we are all sitting here free on days like this is because of a lot of those grave sites out there,’’ said Township Committeeman Kenneth Short, an Army veteran. “I think there are 370 of them. When you go out to a site and you stand there and salute and say the person’s name, it’s moving.’’

Wreaths Across America was brought to the township six 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).

Mayor Matt Murello has marveled about how much the event has grown in stature in such a short time.

“I think this is one of the signature events we have this time of year as we lead into Christmas,’’ Murello said moments before the ceremony began. “You can never forget the military and what they have done for us.’’

Event coordinator Mike Lennon of the Knights of Columbus said that the organization surpassed its goals set for sponsoring wreaths this year.

“We raised our quota last year,’’ Lennon said. “It was 365 and we bumped it up to 370. We are at 410 now and I just mailed in a few more checks. We will go slightly over that so we are actually 10 percent of our way to next year.

“In previous years we have donated wreaths to Arlington (National Cemetery),” he said. “It is my understanding that they are very well sourced there and that there really isn’t a tremendous need. We will roll it forward next year to keep it in the community where it was donated.’’

This year’s Long Valley presentation included songs by bagpiper Mary Wood Russell; the national anthem sung by Maggie Shaffer and a thought-provoking invocation by Tim Kelly, the AVAWT Post 1776 chaplain.

Thomas McBride Navy Master CPO and the Commander of Veterans Post 1776 provided some appropriate remarks then Mayor Murello provided the names of those veterans placing symbolic wreaths at the ceremony.

Korean War veteran Don Cable placed a wreath for the Navy, Army veteran John Groahl placed a wreath for the Army. Marine veteran Brian Mcguire placed a wreath for the Marines. Navy veteran John Larkin, whose two children attended the Coast Guard Academy, placed a wreath for the Coast Guard. Air Force Veteran John Wierbowski, placed a wreath for the Air Force. Navy veteran Jerry Kieffer placed a wreath to represent the Merchant Marines.

In remembering those who were Prisoners of War and Missing in Action, Navy veteran Larry Oppel placed a wreath in memory of West Morris graduate, Air Force member and MIA in Laos, Chester Borough’s Larry Maysey.

Army veteran Charles “Chuck” Dauchert placed a wreath in memory of Army specialist Richard Lacey, a member of his unit that went missing in action in South Vietnam. Afterwards taps was played on a trumpet by Nicholas Murello, the mayor’s son.

In concluding, Lennon provided instructions to the volunteers who would be laying wreaths: “Place the wreath 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’’.

There are five 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.

Cindy Hanft is one of many who consider Wreaths Across American a tradition. Her husband Tim Hanft and daughter Makenna and her father Charlie Davidson were part of a group of volunteers laying wreaths at Our Lady of the Mountain Cemetery.

“I grew up in Long Valley,’’ Cindy Hanft said. “My parents still live in Long Valley and every year we place the wreaths on the graves of the veterans.’’

Each December the mission of Wreaths Across America, a non-profit organization, is to remember fallen veterans and honor those who served through wreath placing ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery as well as 1,600 different locations across all 50 states and abroad.

The idea was initiated in 1992. 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 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. In 2005, a photograph of the rows and rows of grave stones at the national cemetery adorned with wreaths and covered in snow circulated around the Internet and drew plenty of attention from individuals and groups around the country 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.