Wreaths Across America: Volunteers and families salute those who sacrificed

As she speaks to son Oliver about service and sacrifice, Shayna Teunissen, Airman 1st Class at Dover Air Force Base, points to the grave of U.S. Marine Corps veteran John A. Smith, who served in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. The Teunissen family from Milford was part of the huge turnout of volunteers and families who took part in the wreath laying ceremony Saturday at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Millsboro. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

MILLSBORO — As Shayna Teunissen and youngest son Oliver placed a wreath on the next grave, that of U.S. Marine Sgt. John A. Smith, she pointed to his name and spoke to her 5-year-old about service and sacrifice.

“It’s so their stories get continued throughout generations and aren’t forgotten. We should be grateful for their sacrifices,” said Ms. Teunissen, currently an Airman 1st Class with the U.S. Air Force at Dover Air Force Base.

The Teunissen family from Milford — Shayna, husband Derek, who is an Army veteran, and sons Zander, 8, and Oliver — were part of the small army of volunteers and families who participated Saturday in the Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery north of Millsboro.

In a matter of minutes, hundreds of volunteers placed just under 3,400 wreaths on graves and at the columbarium. Placement on specific graves were reserved for family and loved ones.

Some 50 motorcycles from various organizations had roles Friday morning in the Wreaths Across America escort of the Perdue tractor trailer’s trek from Arthur Perdue Stadium in Salisbury to the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Millsboro. On board were approximately 3,400 wreaths for Saturday’s Wreaths Across America ceremony at the cemetery north of Millsboro.

Teresa Ziegler Townsend, Wreaths Across America local coordinator at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery, asked the wreath layers to follow through on a mission.

“It is the most important thing we are going to do: to say each and every veteran’s name within this cemetery. As you place the wreath, say the veteran’s name. Thank them for their service, their sacrifice,” said Ms. Townsend. “I ask you to take a moment. Write down information, the name, and when you return home research the name in the Internet. You will find they were real Americans, with families … mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. They were and are more than just a statistic.”

The nearly 3,400 wreaths arrived Friday morning in a Perdue tractor trailer via motorcycle escort from Perdue Stadium in Salisbury, Maryland. The wreaths had an arduous journey from Columbia Falls, Maine — the headquarters for Wreaths Across America.

“They traveled hundreds of miles, through a snowstorm,” said Ms. Townsend.

This year’s wreath ceremony matched that of 2019, in which last year for the first time every grave at the Millsboro cemetery was blessed with a wreath — hand-crafted all-American balsam and hand-tied with a red velvet bow.

A small army comprised of volunteers and families of loved ones makes quick work in placing wreaths on all graves at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery near Millsboro on Saturday. Several hundred people took part in the event staged on National Wreaths Across America Day.

Amidst a COVID-19 pandemic that made masks and facial covering mandatory, there was no shortage of volunteers.

The list included Wayne Ericksen of Long Neck, who is a Sons of Veterans member at American Legion Post 28 in Millsboro.

“I did it last year and I feel like it’s a way to give back to the vets who sacrifice a lot for service of our country. My grandfather was a vet, before World War I. He was in the U.S. Lighthouse Service, before the Coast Guard … like in 1909,” said Mr. Ericksen.

Delmar resident Martin Mackley helped place wreaths. A member of Legion Riders Chapter 8 at Post 8 in Georgetown, he also was part of the huge motorcycle procession for Friday’s escort.

“My father was a World War II veteran. I was a veteran in-between things,” said Mr. Mackley. “Just the fact of being able to do an honor for the people that have given their lives or just out there being a veteran. You put your name on the line and you just never know what is going to happen.”

Family members and volunteers place wreaths at the columbarium in salute to veterans and loved ones during the Wreaths Across America ceremony Saturday at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery near Millsboro.

“It seems an honorable thing to do for everybody that has given some, and some all, and then the things afterwards,” Mr. Mackley added. “Unfortunately a lot of people do a lot of suffering with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and they wind up taking their own lives.”

Donna DiFrancesca of Millsboro took part for the second consecutive year.

“I started doing this last year,” she said. “My dad served in the Navy on a destroyer. My nephew served two tours in Afghanistan, and I admire every man or woman who enters the service. I do it to honor my dad’s service and my nephew’s service.”

Members of Team Phoenix, a Delmar-based girls fastpitch softball team, pitched in too.

“We try to do a couple public service things every year and this is one of them. And everybody shows up for this,” said Salisbury resident Kort Dickson. “It’s a good reminder for our young people who quite frankly get a lot of this stuff whitewashed in other venues. So they get to see it here and it might be the only place they get to see it.”

Delaware National Guard Col. James Benson offered insight and thoughts prior to the release of wreath layers to graves.

To applause, U.S. military veterans raise their hats during Wreaths Across America.

“We are all proud to be Americans and live in a free society made up of many people from different walks of life. The freedom we enjoy today has not come without a price. Laying here before us and in cemeteries throughout the nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear,” said Col. Benson. “We have the right to succeed and we have the right to fail in whatever endeavor we wish to pursue.

“The United States of America was founded on the ideals of freedom, justice and equality. We thank those who gave their lives to keep us free and we shall not forget you. We shall remember you.”

Showing support for Philadelphia’s Eagles and those who serve in the military, Donna DiFrancesca of Millsboro awaits instructions for the wreath placing.

Nationwide, Wreaths Across America Day was held at 2,557 participating locations, honoring heroes with placement of a total of 1.7 million veterans’ wreaths on their headstones and remembering them, by saying each name aloud.

Ms. Townsend shared news on the fundraising sponsorship front next year, Wreaths Across America 2021. WAA has a match program that runs into mid-January.

“Until Jan. 15, for every wreath sponsored Wreaths Across America will match it. The only catch, it has to be done through fund-raising,” said Ms. Townsend. “It is set up for every two wreaths sponsored, so that is $30. We get one free for a veteran that may not have family or still living to sponsor a wreath. So this match and my fundraising, for two wreaths sponsored would give the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery here in Millsboro a total of five wreaths. That’s three wreaths free, and that is huge.”

The Honor Guard performs the flag folding ceremony prior to the placement of close to 3,400 wreaths at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

Wreath sponsorship

Each wreath costs $15. To sponsor a wreath online, visit the National Wreaths Across America website at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

On the main page there are options to sponsor wreaths, including a specific cemetery or a local fundraising group. Those wishing to participate in Ms. Ziegler Townsend’s group, click on “Local Fundraising Group,” pick the number of wreaths and enter Ms. Ziegler Townsend’s group code — DE0016 — and click.