Family, volunteers place wreaths on 1,200-plus graves at veterans cemetery in Millsboro

MILLSBORO — On a balmy but gray, drizzly day across southcentral Sussex County, Wreaths Across America came to the hallowed grounds of the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Millsboro.

A small army of family members and caring citizens of all ages Saturday morning teamed to place more than 1,200 wreaths on graves of veterans buried in the cemetery along Patriots Way.

The cemetery is the final resting place for William T. Gibbs, a U.S. Army sergeant who served in Vietnam. He passed away Aug. 1, 2009 and is among the 4,000-plus veterans buried at the cemetery.

His wife Lutisha Gibbs of Georgetown made her annual Wreaths Across America Day pilgrimage to place a wreath on his grave.

“William passed away nine years ago, and I have been doing this for nine years,” said Ms. Gibbs. “To me it means the people are coming together to honor those who have served their country. Honor and respect and duty, that is what it means to me. And this is the biggest (turnout of volunteers) I have ever seen in the nine years that I have been coming.”

The Gibbs family also sponsored four additional wreaths for the Dec. 15 ceremony in Millsboro, which was part of the nationwide Wreaths Across America Day event that featured a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

“My goodness, the cars just kept coming and coming,” said Teresa Townsend, the location coordinator for National Wreaths Across America Day at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Millsboro. “And what a beautiful day. I am just so filled with gratitude.”

The goal for wreath sponsorship was 2,800, a $15 each.

“That would have allowed us to lay a wreath at every marker in our fields and to beautifully decorate both columbarium sections that we have here at the Millsboro cemetery,” said Ms. Townsend, whose grandparents are buried at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery. “We have over 4,000 veterans buried here in our Millsboro cemetery. We want to remember and honor all of them.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a wreath to place at every gravesite this year. Next year we hope to accomplish that.”

Along with carefully placing wreaths at gravesites was a request to take a moment to read the veteran’s name aloud and perhaps go one step further.

“Write down information on the person, and when you return home research their name on the internet and find out all you can about that person,” said Ms. Townsend. “You will find they were real Americans; mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles … they were and are more than just a statistic.”

“Memories …,” said Ms. Gibbs. “When you come out here you think of what the person stood for and the life that they lived. And you combine that with serving their country, it was important to the people, the soldiers, whoever they were, male or female.”

Volunteer wreath-layers spanned the spectrum, including veteran organizations, community groups and sports organizations as well as individuals.

Members of the Delaware Storm softball program teamed up to lend a helping hand.

“We push all of our players to do volunteer hours. And what better cause than to come out and honor these veterans here today?” said Delaware Storm Coach W. Scott Collins of Selbyville where he is the town’s police chief.

“There is a lot of familiar names here. And there is a lot of organizations here. This is great. It is great to see this turnout, especially for this weather.”

“Our organization really strives on serving the community over ourselves or our team. So, if there is a chance to go practice or go serve, like the food pantry, we always choose the food pantry,” said Amanda Riekert, catcher/third baseman for the Delaware Storm. “And specifically, for me, my family, a lot of them are part of the military or were in the military. So, this is really special for me to be here.”

“Wreaths Across America’s mission is to remember our fallen, honor those you serve and teach our children the value of freedom,” said Ms. Townsend. “So, having the young people out here today is phenomenal.”

Members of the Delaware National Guard and cemetery staff were on hand to provide guidance and assistance, if needed.

The program for the ceremony acknowledged the support of Perdue Farms, American Legion Post 28 Honor Guard, Korean War Veterans Association Sussex County Chapter 1, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 28, U.S. Coast Guard Station/Indian River, Dover Air Force Base, the Delaware National Guard 262nd Maintenance Company based in Dagsboro, the cemetery staff and all volunteers.

“I can’t say it enough; my heart is just so full,” Ms. Townsend said. “This community has come out and supported this event in a big, big way.

And next year folks we are going to work diligently to be able to place a wreath at every veteran’s grave here at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Millsboro.”

Eyes were also on the cloudy sky in anticipation of a hopeful flight by the United States’ national emblem.

“I don’t know if he will come out today, but for the past two years we have a resident bald eagle here at the cemetery that after all of the wreaths have been placed, he has come out and flown around the cemetery, as if to tell us, ‘Job well done,’” said Ms. Townsend.

After all wreaths were placed, a ceremony was held in the cemetery chapel. It featured wreath presentations by Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and POW-MIA representatives.

The ceremony in Millsboro followed the Delaware General Assembly’s annual Wreaths Across America ceremony Monday, Dec. 10 in Dover.

Military leaders, veterans’ groups, school children and state and local officials took part in the event at Legislative Hall.

A large wreath honoring all five branches of the armed forces was placed at the base of the Delaware Continentals Statue.

The Wreaths Across America campaign began in the state of Maine in 1992 when the owner of a wreath company, Morrill Worcester, had a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering his experience in a trip to Washington, D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery as a boy, Mr. Worcester seized the opportunity to honor America’s veterans.

With the aid of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the cemetery’s older sections that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.

The annual tribute went on quietly for several years until 2005 when a photo of the markers at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet. Immediately, the project received national attention.

Last year, Wreaths Across America and their national network of volunteers laid over 1,565,000 memorial wreaths at more than 1,440 locations in all 50 states and beyond.

WAA’s annual pilgrimage from Harrington, Maine to Arlington National Cemetery has become known as the world’s largest veterans’ parade, stopping at schools, monuments, veterans’ homes and communities all along the way to remind people the importance to remember, honor and teach.

 

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