Community gathers for ‘Wreaths Across America’ Day

| 20 Dec 2018 | 11:43

WEST MILFORD – High school seniors Evan LeMay and Mathew Hoffman managed to bring hundreds of community members together Saturday to remember, honor, and teach, younger generations about the importance of our veterans by spearheading the first “Wreaths Across America” event ever held in the township.
Troops of Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, various community civic organizations, school groups, law enforcement agencies, veterans, active-duty military personnel, other community groups and individual residents, gathered together at Veterans Park on Dec. 15 for the township's inaugural opening ceremony.
“The outpouring of support for this cause and for Evan and Mathew has been overwhelming, and it says a lot about this town and how we respect our veterans,” Cindy LeMay, mother of Evan, said.
LeMay and Hoffman both have older siblings serving in the military; and both also plan to enter military service following graduation from high school.
The two young men diligently worked on this project for many months, and gave presentations about the program at Township Council meetings, Board of Education meetings, schools, and community organizations throughout the township, seeking support, volunteers and donations.
“Boys, you have obviously been an inspiration to many. Just look around you; not only have you inspired the adults, you’ve inspired many younger children, as well as your peers who have come here today to help you carry out that mission," Hoffman’s mom, Laura, said during the ceremony. "You both have done this. All this before you and all those that meet us at the cemeteries are here because of you two. You brought an entire community together for one cause, our Veterans.”
The township joined other communities across the nation for the event, which included President Donald Trump helping lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
According to Keynote Speaker, retired U.S. Navy veteran, William L. Nixon, 626,245 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines coast guardsman have given their lives in the name of freedom since World War I.
“That is equal to 25 towns the size of West Milford in population,” he said. “Many of those souls are in the graves you will be visiting today.”
Why the wreath?
“The wreath is constructed in a circle, out of evergreens, which represents eternal life-No beginning, No end," Nixon said. "A symbol of respect, honor and of victory. The wreath symbolizes Strength-Evergreens last throughout the harshest of winters-again, representing strength. A quality that each of our fallen veterans possess.”
He said the purpose of Wreaths Across America is “to teach everyone that freedom is not free,"
“The veterans that we are going to visit today gave their lives and sacrificed opportunities that many of us take for granted - opportunities such as marriage, children, siblings, joys of life. The freedoms we enjoy stem from the sacrifices veterans and their families have made. It is up to us to remember, honor, and teach others about those of us who have worn the uniform and about the importance of Americanism and patriotism,” he said.
He said that Wreaths Across America is an opportunity for the entire community to see the significance and the importance of coming together as family and friends to honor and remember our fallen heroes.
Nixon presented LeMay and Hoffman each with a certificate from the Fleet Reserve Association for Americanism and patriotism. Nixon said thanks to the work of people like them, he is able to say to all Veterans, “Your duty, service and sacrifices are not forgotten.”
LeMay and Hoffman thanked the community and their parents for supporting them and the Veterans for this event.
“I started small this year with only three cemeteries, as we didn’t know what to expect with the community’s turn out. However, being here today as well as knowing how much we raised, we’re certain this event will grow across West Milford,” LeMay said.
“While raising funds for this through numerous school and town events, we met and conversed with some great people.” Hoffman said,
He said they were able to raise enough money for over 1,600 wreaths.
“The excess 1,000-plus wreaths were already sent down to another participating ceremony in Maryland, one that was in need of help in order to be able to cover the graves of more than 20,000 veterans."
In addition to the LeMays, Hoffmans, and Nixon, other participants in the ceremony included Diane Eriksen, American Legion Post 289, VFW Post 8096, Kim DeStefano, Dr. Brian McLaughlin and members of the West Milford High School Highlander Band - including Rebecca Foody performing “Taps”, and bagpipers Joseph Smolinski and Raquel Mea closing the ceremony with “Amazing Grace."
Members from each branch of military service were present to place ceremonial wreaths at the Veterans Park memorial.
Volunteers then boarded school busses donated for use by West Milford Schools and Jordan transportation, and proceeded to the three designated cemeteries throughout the township, to lay individual wreaths at the final resting places of every local veteran buried in each cemetery.