A new way to pay homage to our nation’s veterans will come to Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmira on Dec. 13.
Wreaths Across America has proven popular at Arlington National Cemetery, and now Cameron Manufacturing Design in Horseheads wants to bring it here and develop it into a community event.
The public and local businesses can become involved by purchasing balsam fir wreaths and volunteering to place them at some of the 8,600 graves at Woodlawn. The event began at Arlington in 1992 and last year grew to placement of 540,000 wreathes at more than 900 cemeteries, parks and monuments, including Bath National Cemetery in Steuben County.
Point person is Matthew Sharpe, human resources director at Cameron, a metal fabricator, and a Civil War buff who takes his family to Arlington National Cemetery outside the nation’s capital each year.
“People these days are so much in a hurry, but when you go to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, everything stops. Cell phones get turned off. People are quiet. The respect is there,” Sharpe said.
“It’s very beautiful when it is done in the snow,” Jasper Edwards, new director of Bath and Woodlawn national cemeteries, said of the wreath-laying. “We welcome the event here.”
How it works
• People go to the website of Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization, wreathsacrossamerica.org, to order wreaths. Sponsorship costs $15 for one, $30 for two, $75 for five, and up. A third wreath will be provided free for every two purchased.
• People can designate the wreath to go to a specific cemetery. On the website home page, at right, click on “Sponsor Locally” under “Honor Fallen Heroes in your Community.” On next page, under “Find a Fundraising Group,” enter “NY0069” and hit search. Under search results, click on “Donate” next to where it reads “Woodlawn – Elmira.” Filling out donation on that page will ensure the wreath will go to the Elmira cemetery. (People who want the wreath to go to another cemetery, such as Bath, can search for participating locations under “Find a Location.”)
• Sharpe said people who want to designate a wreath for a specific grave at Woodlawn, should contact him to arrange to place it on that grave at the Dec. 13 ceremony. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• For a specific cemetery, purchase wreaths by Dec. 1. For a wreath for Arlington, purchase wreaths by Dec. 10.
• On Dec. 13, Wreaths Across America Day, the 16-inch wreaths will be placed at the graves of veterans by local volunteers. The national organization estimates 725,000 wreaths will be placed across the country, including 230,000, one for every gravesite, at Arlington.
• In January, volunteers will be recruited to remove the wreaths from the gravesites. Edwards, the area’s national cemetery director, explained the wreaths can stain the headstones if there is prolonged contact.
“We want to turn it into a community project. That is how we are pursuing it right now,” Sharpe said. “We have sent out an email to all the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce members, all our personal business contacts. There has been a good response. Local companies are donating money, and are also willing to donate volunteers.”
Those interesting in volunteering to put out or later retrieve the wreaths can contact Sharpe by email by Dec. 1 at email@example.com. The number of wreaths purchased, still to be determined, will guide the number of volunteers needed.
“The ultimate goal is 8,600 wreaths,” Sharpe said, to cover all gravesites at Woodlawn National. “I don’t think we will reach that this year with the late start, but in the next couple years, we could.”
Sharp said the plan is to make sure some graves from each military conflict represented at Woodlawn get wreaths this year.
The national organization said Morrill Worcester, owner of a Maine wreath company, drew on boyhood memories of a visit to Arlington when he donated 5,000 surplus wreaths to Arlington in 1992. Cameron became involved through a contract its subsidiary, Cameron Bridge Works in Elmira, had to build a pedestrian bridge for the expansion of Arlington cemetery.
“The contractor down there for the bridge installation asked us if we would be interested in donating or participating in Wreaths Across America,” Sharpe said. Cameron’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Goll liked the idea, Sharpe said, but asked why not do it at Elmira’s own national cemetery and make it a community effort.
Sharpe said Wreaths across America will deliver the wreaths Dec. 11-12 to Cameron, which will use its trucks to bring them to the cemetery Dec. 13.
He said the public is also welcome to the Dec. 13 ceremony that will feature an honor guard and laying of seven ceremonial wreaths that represent all branches of the armed forces, plus the POW/MIA.
The 220-member American Legion Post 402 in Wayland, N.Y., has organized Wreaths Across America at the Bath National Cemetery for three or more years, said Kevin Marks, post commander.
“One of our members got a hold of us and said let’s run with this,” Marks said.
Last year, he said more than 380 wreaths were placed at Bath and there are similar plans for this year. He called it a community effort, with participation from Legion honor guards in Wayland and Corning and help from post and auxiliary members, cemetery staff and others.
Area Legion posts and individuals buy the wreaths for Bath through the national organization’s website.
“This year, I have a local tree farm, Hober Tree Farm in Wayland, that is donating seven wreaths to commemorate the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and POW-MIA,” Marks said.
“The respect is awesome,” Marks said. “If we can do this and remember those guys, they put a lot of time and devotion in away from their families and made sacrifices.”
Cameron, which is 30 years old and employs 205 in Horseheads, has about 25 to 30 veterans in its workforce.
“The vets I spoken to are all asking how can I get involved, how can I donate,” Sharp said. “We have a great group of people. They like doing things in the community.”