Every veteran at Millsboro cemetery honored with a wreath

Teresa Townsend, location coordinator for Wreaths Across America at Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery, gives instructions on protocol prior to the placement of wreaths. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — Beneath a low, gray cloud ceiling, the field at Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in a matter of minutes became a sea of green and red Saturday morning.

Hundreds of volunteers teamed with family and friends of veterans in a huge turnout to place wreaths at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day.

A total of 3,033 balsam fir wreaths were placed on graves of every veteran – and in some cases their spouse — and at sections of the columbarium walls during the wreath-laying ceremony at the cemetery north of Millsboro.

“Remember, we are not here today to decorate graves,” said Teresa Townsend, location coordinator for Wreaths Across America at Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery. “We are here not to remember their death but their lives. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful nation.”

Volunteers and family places wreaths on graves of veterans and their spouses as one man pauses to salute, following wreath placement Saturday at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Altogether, 4,000-plus veterans were honored with wreaths.

Georgetown resident Mary St. Jacques fought back tears as she placed her wreath in honor of Dorothy Criste and Lawrence Criste, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

“My father and mother … I come here a lot to visit,” said Ms. St. Jacques, accompanied by her husband Ernest St. Jacques. “But this is just a day that honors everybody who went through a war, and it’s something we should do every day, and not just once a year. But at least we can do it all once a year.”

The grave specified by a red flag, Mary St. Jacques of Georgetown is about to place a wreath at the grave of her mother, Dorothy Criste, and father, Lawrence Criste, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Accompaning Ms. St. Jacques is her husband, Ernest St. Jacques. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Richard Douglas of Lincoln, who served 20 years in the United States Air Force from 1951-71, placed a wreath honoring his wife, Marcella Evangeline Jacobs Douglas.

“For me, I am supporting my wife, who stood by my side for 20 years, and also all the veterans, plus my family that is still serving,” said Mr. Douglas, who recently turned 86. “My wife’s family goes back; her father was in the Spanish-American War. Her family and my family have served in every war up to … I have got two grandsons and an adopted grand-daughter that are in the Army. They are career.”

On National Wreaths Across America Day, ceremonies were held Saturday at veterans and public cemeteries across America, and of course at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

“I think Arlington is doing this on the same timeframe that we are, which is good,” said Mr. Douglas.

Among the volunteers was Sons of the American Legion member Garth Miller, representing the Detachment of Delaware and Squadron 28 in Millsboro.

“We are extremely honored,” said Mr. Miller. “It’s awesome to see the output from the community and the support from the community to realize how important our veterans are. It’s mind-blowing to see so many people here doing this.”

After placing a wreath at the grave of his wife, Marcella, 20-year U.S. Air Force veteran Richard Douglas of Lincoln stands over the grave of World War II Army veteran Fred Cannon Jr. during the wreath ceremony Saturday at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Millsboro. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

“We do this every year for Teresa (Townsend). It is a great program,” said Mr. Miller.

“The community just continues to step up and step out in a huge way to support our veterans and to honor them,” said Ms. Townsend. “Once again, I am overwhelmed with the number of children and youth groups that have shown up again this year. Some of them are visiting the cemetery for the first time.”

Volunteers were asked to not only fluff the wreath and red bow and gently lay it in place, but also quietly say the veteran’s name aloud.

“As many of you know, you have entered hallowed ground,” Ms. Townsend said. “Today is not only a day to remember our fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who served and teach our children the value of freedom, but to also say their names. As you place the wreath today — after you have fluffed it up and fluffed up the bow too, because they have traveled hundreds of miles to get here — we ask that you say their name so that they are never forgotten.”

Ms. Townsend had an additional request.

“We ask you to take a moment at graveside, write down the name and when you get home research the name on the internet. You will find they were real Americans, with families, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. They were and are more than just a statistic,” said Ms. Townsend.

Ms. St. Jacques made note of the sacrifices made by families of veterans. “Even if they don’t go overseas … we moved every year,” she said. “I was in like 10 different schools. We always came home, and dad had orders. So, here we go again … to another school. You just pack up and go.”

Last year, the effort to honor each veteran at the Delaware cemetery with a wreath fell a bit short.

That goal was met this year thanks to generous individuals, families, groups and service organizations who sponsored wreaths – priced at $15 each. The drive was bolstered by matching incentives through Ms. Townsend’s fundraising group, which included Military Appreciation Month this past May during which National Wreaths Across America pledged to match every wreath sponsored.

Ms. Townsend is hopeful there will be another match incentive for next year. “I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will because we got over 1,000 wreaths free in that two-week time frame,” she said.

Following the wreath placement, a special ceremony in the cemetery chapel featured Adjutant General Michael Berry of Delaware National Guard and World War II veteran Charles Cramer, who placed the wreath on behalf of the U.S. Army.

The wreaths were trucked in from the state of Maine, where Wreaths Across America was born. The originator of the WAA program was Morrill Worcester, owner of a wreath-making company in Maine who in 1991 donated and delivered wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery to be placed on the graves of the fallen veterans.

There is another call for volunteers on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020 for the wreath retirement. Volunteers will assist cemetery staff in removing wreaths and holiday decorations. The work bee starts at 10:30 a.m., and there is no need to pre-register or sign up, just show up.

“Volunteers are definitely welcome,” said Ms. Townsend. “We have 3,000 wreaths to pick up this year – over 1,000 more than we did last year.”

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