This year's "Wreaths Across America" tribute is looking for help.
"Wreaths Across America-West Milford" got its start in 2018, courtesy of Evan LeMay and Matthew Hoffman, two patriotic West Milford High School students.
The young men collaborated with West Milford Military Moms and Wreaths Across America to begin honoring West Milford veterans laid to rest in three local cemeteries for their service and sacrifice.
Posted on their "Wreaths Across America-West Milford, NJ" Facebook page on March 1, 2018: "As two very patriotic West Milford High School students who also have brothers in the military (Evan’s brother is on active duty with the Army and Matt’s brother is a contracted ROTC MSII cadet at Boston University), we wanted to do something in support of our veterans and military.
“Wreaths Across America’s mission of honor, remember, and teach,” the post continued, “fits perfectly with our beliefs and allows us to assist them in never forgetting. Wreaths Across America states that a person dies twice, once when they take their last breath and again when their name is spoken for the last time. It is our mission to never let a veteran die that second time. We will always remember, honor and thank them."
Wreaths Across America is a national nonprofit organization that raises funds to pay for wreaths that community volunteers then place on veterans’ graves across the nation. A special tribute ceremony in their community further honors the veterans.
In 2018, residents and organizations warmly embraced the first WAA event as evidenced by the generous donations for wreaths, attendance at the ceremony in Veteran’s Park, and the many volunteers that took the time to honor the fallen by placing wreaths on their graves at the three local cemeteries.
Since their graduation from WMHS, LeMay enlisted and is serving in the Marine Corps, and Hoffman is studying kinesiology and is enrolled in Army ROTC at Penn State University.
These two young men have now “passed the torch” of organizing the WAA-WM program to LeMay's cousins, Emma and Trevor Darnsteadt, to continue the program in the community.
New faces of Wreaths Across America-West Milford
The Darnsteadts participated in the first WAA-WM event. They came away impressed with the number of volunteers that helped -- especially the young students. The siblings found it a rewarding experience, and they are looking forward to continuing the event.
Emma is a junior and Trevor is a freshman at West Milford High School. According to WAA-WM, both students are eager to work on this project and to follow in the footsteps of their cousin LeMay and his friend Hoffman.
The Darnsteadts are coming up with new ideas to help fulfill the goals of Wreaths Across America: “(To) remember the fallen, honor our veterans, and teach the importance of freedom.”
Each year, the WAA national organization introduces a new motivational theme. This year’s theme is “Everyone plays a part.”
According to WAA-WM, the inspiration for this year’s theme came from the Wreaths Across America founder’s grandson, Miles, who thanked a service member in uniform for his service. The gentleman replied, “Thank you. ... Everyone plays a part.”
Miles reportedly went directly to his grandmother and told her he thought that should be this year’s theme, because “those serving in the military are doing their part, but it is our part as Americans to remember and honor them, and that’s what Wreaths Across America does.”
Wreaths Across America-West Milford: 2019
Emma and Trevor have begun planning this year’s Wreaths Across America-West Milford event.
The main ceremony will take place at 11:45 a.m. Dec. 14 at Veteran’s Park in front of the West Milford Municipal Building, Union Valley Road and Ridge Road.
After it concludes, volunteers from the community will then travel to the participating cemeteries, Cedar Heights Cemetery on Ridge Road and St. Joseph’s Church Cemetery on Germantown Road, to lay wreaths on the pre-marked veterans’ gravesites.
Boy Scout Troop 44 has volunteered to honor the veterans laid to rest at the third participating cemetery, in the township at the West Milford Presbyterian Church, for the second consecutive year.
The West Milford Board of Education and Jordan Transportation have again donated bus transportation for the community volunteers traveling from Veteran's Park to the cemeteries. To address traffic and parking concerns, participating volunteer residents are encouraged to use the buses provided for their convenience.
Help is needed
Wreaths Across America-West Milford needs donations to cover the cost of the wreaths, volunteers to help place the wreaths at the cemeteries on Dec. 14, volunteers to help remove the wreaths at a later date and food donations for a luncheon for volunteers after the wreath-laying ceremonies.
This year, the luncheon will be at the West Milford High School cafeteria. All WAA-WM volunteers are welcome.