Christmas wreaths remember Tioga and Bradford County veterans
"I am the daughter of a World War II veteran," said Laura Hoppe of Waverly, N.Y. She continued, "My father, still living, was a flight instructor. I am the wife of a proud veteran, serving in the Navy. I cry when I hear our National Anthem played. I'm proud to live in this great country, and have an opportunity to place a wreath on the graves of the brave men and women who proudly served. Placing a wreath on my husband's grave, gave me great comfort and peace."
Wreaths Across America volunteers from church, community, school and veteran groups took time out of their busy schedules to participate in Saturday's sixth annual program of placing wreaths on Tioga County's veterans graves and memorials. The long range objective is a wreath on the graves of all 5,000 veterans resting in Tioga County cemeteries.
When you drive by the main entrance of a cemetery and see the wreath is missing, find a way to get an evergreen there as soon as possible.
In Washington, D.C., 25,000 volunteers laid an estimated 110,000 balsam fir wreaths, each adorned with a festive red bow, on headstones of fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
This year's turnout was the largest since the annual "Wreaths Across America" tradition started in 1992. Morrill Worcester, president of the Worcester Wreath Company from Harrington, Maine, recalled that he had ordered more wreaths than he could sell that year. Worcester happened to think of Arlington because he had come there when he won a trip to Washington as a newspaper carrier. He saw the changing of the Guard, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and acres of memory he has never forgotten. So he hoped Arlington would say yes to wreath laying.
Arlington said yes. Worcester began donating 5,000 holiday wreaths to decorate veteran graves. The gesture caught on like wildfire, thanks to an Air Force photographer's picture of headstones with red bow wreaths in the snow on the internet, and has expanded every year to more military cemeteries and communities like those in the Tioga and Bradford County area.
This year, thousands of volunteers laid an estimated 400,000 evergreen wreaths at almost 800 cemeteries in all 50 states and 24 overseas sites. Worcester and his wife, Karen, recognized a milestone in the "Wreaths Across America" effort as he presented the one millionth wreath since the program's inception to a Gold Star family and wounded warrior.
Last Saturday in Owego, N.Y., a moment of silence began the ceremony to remember the fallen, the prisoners of war and the missing in action, and to honor those who have served and are serving this great nation's armed forces.
Andrea McBride sang the National Anthem. The Rev. G. Terry Steenburg, senior pastor of the Historic First Baptist Church of Owego, offered the prayer and blessed the wreaths. Colors were posted by the Honor Guard of the Glenn A. Warner Post 1371, Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The Iraq War Gold Star Family of Charles Bilbrey and son Patrick, veterans and private citizens placed wreaths at the Tioga County Veterans Memorial to remember 165 fallen heroes from Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, World War Two and World War One, and all Tioga County Veterans who served.
Evergreen wreaths were laid at the Tioga County Union Memorial facing the Court Street Bridge and in Historic Evergreen Cemetery at the 80-grave Civil War Site.
In St. Patrick's Cemetery, Gold Star Mother Barbara Bilbrey and her son Patrick laid a wreath at the grave of her son, Army Specialist Charles Bilbrey Jr. killed in action on July 26, 2007 in Iraq. She remarked, "We recently marked the fifth year since we lost Charlie. I continue to work as an obstetric nurse at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, and even after five years Charlie is the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thought I have at night.
She continued, "For anyone who has suffered a loss, the Christmas season can be very difficult to get through. This brief time during the Christmas season gives us all a small moment to pause during the holiday season and reflect on the service members, past and present who have served our country and the families who are passing the holiday season without them. It has become part of our holiday plans since Charlie has died."
Broadway Cemetery on Day Hollow Road in the Town of Owego received a wreath from Marnie Schrader. Evergreen wreaths honored veterans in the Ukranian Cemetery in Athens, Pa. At the entrance to Brown Settlement Cemetery on Brown Road in Berkshire, Maurice Stoughton and Ruth Stoughton placed a wreath to honor veterans.
Vietnam Veteran Gary Umiker and Maurice Stoughton placed a wreath at the Veterans Monument at Evergreen Cemetery in Berkshire on Dec. 7 to honor the service of Pearl Harbor survivor Dick Hopkins of Berkshire and all our veterans.
In Apalachin at Riverside Cemetery, new Trustee JoAnn Walter placed a wreath at her World War II father's grave, and another at Civil War fallen hero David B. Brown's grave. David's story is one of many that make the message of Wreaths Across America so important. David died at the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, and it is her understanding he also fought at Antietam just three months before that. Walter placed the remembrance wreath on Thursday, Dec. 13, the 150th anniversary.
Walter says she likes the concept of Adopt a Grave. She says in a way she feels as though she's adopted David B. Brown. She says when she visits Riverside to check things out, not only does she stop by her dad's grave and her own son's grave, but she takes the time to walk to the opposite side of the cemetery to check on David Brown.
As a Riverside Cemetery trustee, she has started the process of helping Riverside be nominated for the State Historic Registry.
In Waverly, at three war memorials and four cemeteries, the VFW and American Legion and Friends of the Waverly Cemetery Group held a wreath laying ceremony that included a prayer, rifle salute and taps in honor of all war veterans. Three Waverly churches - First Baptist, First Presbyterian and United Methodist - rang their church bells at noon.
Waverly Coordinator Ron Keene says the group is hoping that this is going to be even bigger next year. He felt the volley and taps got a lot of attention. He added that more people in Waverly put more wreaths on veteran graves this year because of press coverage.
Next year, Keene says, they are hoping to get outside the village in the Town of Barton to place wreaths on veteran graves. He says there is a need for all our towns and villages in Tioga County and across the border in Bradford County to start working together and get behind this Wreaths Across America project.
Before the wreath service, a moment of silence remembered the 20 school children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Owego gave the prayer. Flags at the Tioga County Veterans Memorial were at half staff by presidential proclamation.