Departed veterans honored at Wreaths Across America ceremony
By Steven Hoffman
Several hundred friends, neighbors and out-of-towners joined to honor departed war veterans at Oxford’s Wreaths Across America ceremony on Dec. 14.
The event took place at the Oxford Cemetery late on Saturday morning under cloudy skies and amidst a chilly, wet haze. There in the cemetery are the graves of veterans from as far back at the American Revolutionary War.
It is the 11th year Wreaths Across America has been celebrated in Oxford Borough, and in one of those years – 2016 - the local residents actually organized and produced the greenery themselves, lacking the funds to buy the wreaths.
Along with spectators and participants, the Chester County Sheriff’s deputies were there to keep it organized, and a band of bikers – the Leatherneck Nation – showed up to show their respect. Additionally, local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts helped out.
The history of the Wreaths Across America event goes back to 1992 when Morrill Worcester, the owner of a wreath company in Maine, recalled how awed he had been by a visit to Arlington National Cemetery years before when he was 12 years old. Having determined in his adulthood that he had a surplus of wreaths that year, he arranged to have them sent to a section of the Arlington Cemetery that does not get very much attention.
In the years that followed, he continued the tradition, and it began to get national attention. By 2008, groups were holding individual wreath-laying ceremonies at over 300 locations.
Clarissa Sherrow, the local ceremony chairperson, said that at this point the tradition has gone nationwide and continues each year on the second or third Saturday in December.
A spokesperson for the Worcester Wreath Company said this week that all the wreaths for the ceremonies come from that company. She added that production work for Wreaths Across America at the company begins annually on Oct. 1.
Sherrow said Oxford’s effort this year yielded 1,300 wreaths, most of them going on the graves in the Oxford Cemetery, but a few, she added, will go to nearby gravesites where veterans are laid to rest.
Every year, the local organizers must raise the money to cover the expenses of the wreaths. She said local merchants contributed a large part of the money, but it was also supplemented by special fundraising events. The most lucrative, she explained, was a “jail and bail” event during which local dignitaries agreed to sit in the local lockup and seek dollars from the public for their release.
The wreaths are sent out to distribution points from Maine earlier in the month. In this case, West Chester was the regional distribution point. There they are picked up and delivered to local municipalities.
In Oxford, the wreaths arrived at the public works plant and came over via parade on Friday night in an A. Duie Pyle truck. Traditionally, the A. Duie Pyle company provides the delivery in its trucks free of charge.
On Saturday, the event began with the posting of the colors by a color guard from Oxford’s Roy W. Gibson Post 535 American Legion.
Martin Thompson, the commander of the Mason Dixon American Legion at Rising Sun, Md., was the master of ceremonies. He presented David Bradform, chaplain of the Mason Dixon legion, who gave the invocation.
Bradford reminded those present to honor not only the veterans buried in Oxford, but those who never returned from combat overseas and those who had suffered injuries that affected them for the rest of their lives.
Two state legislators, State Sen. Andy Dinniman, (D-19) of West Whiteland, and State Rep. John Lawrence, (R-13) of West Grove, were on hand.
Of the veterans and those who serve, Dinniman said, “No nation is safe unless it is protected.”
Lawrence said he had recently heard a news item that someone had been killed in Afghanistan. He said he immediately hoped it was not his friend who was serving there. Then he reflected that this person who had been killed was the member of a family, and that they, at this time, were suffering the sadness of the loss. He quoted biblical advice from Christ who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends.”
The ceremony proceeded with the ceremonial laying of eight wreaths by members of the six branches of military, plus families of the departed veterans or of those who were still missing.
Those who participated were William Jones (Army), John Orcutt (Navy), William H. Tomlinson Jr. (Marines), Aaron Shelton (Air Force), Paula Fuller (Coast Guard), Max King Jr (Merchant Marines), and Terri Hines (Gold Star families) and Sandra Day (POW/MIA).
Rachel Peak, a senior high school student from Oxford High School Band, played “Taps,” and Breena Schroder sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”
It was at the completion of the formal wreath presentations that friends and relatives were invited to go around the cemetery looking for flags identifying graves of veterans and place the wreaths on those graves.
Sherrow told the guests, “We want these remembrance wreaths to symbolize our honor to those who have served and are serving in the armed forces of our great nation and to their families who endure the sacrifices every day on our behalf.”