Community honors fallen vets with wreaths

Chris Barber    Digital First MediaAvery Tomlinson, 6, lays a wreath on the grave of a veteran following the Wreaths Across America Service.
Chris Barber Digital First MediaAvery Tomlinson, 6, lays a wreath on the grave of a veteran following the Wreaths Across America Service.

OXFORD >> Undaunted by the previous night’s snow, local folks slipped boots and mittens on their kids and trudged up to the Oxford cemetery on Saturday to pay tribute to deceased veterans and those who gave their lives in battle. Like many Oxford events, the turnout was substantial — several hundred — and the spirits were high.

This occasion was Wreaths Across America, an annual tradition that began in 1992 when a wreath company owner in Maine decided to send his excess wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery for placement on veterans’ graves. Since then the practice grew to stops along the way to drop off seven wreaths — one for each branch of the military plus POWs and MIAs. Now it is a huge nationwide event every third Saturday in December in which local organizations and communities join to raise money for the wreaths and have them delivered to cemeteries for distributions.

Overall, The ceremonies to place the wreaths on the graves vary by location.

At the Oxford cemetery the day began with a color guard march from Sacred Heart Church into the cemetery by the Young Marines of Lancaster. Pastor Glen Logan told the crowd of several hundred that the United States is “a country build on the blood of men who have given it all.”

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Guest speaker Jill Hardy, the mother of Marine Brandon Michael Hardy, a 1999 graduate of Octorara High School who died in Iraq in an IED explosion, was received warmly by the crowd.

She said she remembers her son with pain and pride every day, and that from the time he was 10 years old, he wanted to serve his country.

She quoted a letter she received from him that he wrote shortly before he was killed. He told her, “Just remember it’s my job and I love it.”

“I fear people will forget Brandon — how he lived and what he died for,” she said

Master of Ceremonies retired Marine Ken Weaver oversaw the placement of the seven wreaths from the military’s branches, including one for prisons of war and one for missing in action, at the cemetery’s stone monument. One-by-one representatives of the brought forward the wreaths and saluted with their placement.

The formal service concluded with a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”

But that formal conclusion signaled the start of the placement of the 1,321 wreaths, which had been brought in by truck and put in piles earlier for the distribution.

The crowd of volunteers moved enthusiastically but respectfully, spreading out and distributing the wreaths. Many had their children put the wreaths on the actual graves, which were marked by bronze stars.

As they were instructed, they carried out the actions slowly enough to read the names on the stones and reflect on their sacrifices.

Some of volunteers were heard to repeat the birth/death years carved on the stones and marvel that some went back to the 19th century and possibly more.

The crowd was so large that visitors were instructed to park in the adjacent Sacred Heart Church lot rather than the cemetery. Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh and her deputies were on hand to direct traffic and keep the event moving along without a hitch.

At one point, Weaver thanked all the people who had made the ceremony possible,including Marcus Kellerman, who organized the fund raising for the wreaths this year. Last year the project was not coordinated with the national organization and money was not raised, so florist Vicki Robinson took it upon herself the organize it within the community on volunteer effort. She too was given accolades by Weaver.

The Oxford ceremony was the only one in southern Chester County, with another taking place in Paoli on Saturday at about the same time.

Weaver said that this year, Wreaths Across America took place at 1,422 locations.

About the Author

Chris Barber

Chris Barber is the editor of the Avon Grove Sun. She was previously southern bureau chief of the Daily Local News and editor of the Kennett Paper, earning honors in writing and photography. Reach the author at agsun@kennettpaper.com .