Add To Favorites In PHR
Remembering York's veterans this holiday with wreaths
First Parish Cemetery joins Wreaths Across America program
Portsmouth Herald - 12/6/2017
YORK - When the Wreaths Across America caravan travels south on Route 1 next week, it will be bringing more than 200 wreaths that will be laid on veterans' graves at the First Parish Cemetery - the first nonveteran cemetery in the state that has requested to be involved in the program.
A ceremony will be held at noon on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the site in the cemetery where Memorial Day services are held - an area that has come to be known as Memorial Circle in honor of York's deceased veterans.
The idea to be included in the Wreaths Across America program came from York resident James Towle. Several years ago, his grandchildren asked him if he would donate a wreath to be placed in a cemetery where they live in Maryland. That sparked him to purchase a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of a relative.
"In October of 2016, my wife and I took a trip up to Houlton, and on the way back we were meandering down Route 1 when we drove right by the Wreaths Across America office in Columbia Falls," he said. "They have an unbelievable museum there. And I was so impressed with the whole operation that I called Todd (Frederick, superintendent of the First Parish Cemetery) and said, 'We have to do this.'"
Because it was so late in the season, he was able to procure only seven wreaths, which were laid in a ceremony last December to commemorate the five branches of the military. With two unclaimed, said Frederick, he turned to a family he had come to know.
"I had met them earlier in the year when they buried their 35-year-old daughter who was a veteran of the first Gulf War," he said. "Her mother said 'My daughter was honored to be in the military. She was 18 years old when she entered the service and she was in the military police. She would talk about escorting the Iraqis in to vote and there were snipers on the top of nearby buildings try to shoot them. She said, mom, this is why I am in the military,'" said Frederick.
The family attended the ceremony last year, and when Frederick approached them with a wreath, "they were extremely touched by it. It still gives me the goosebumps."
Towle said it is because of veterans like her and other veterans interred in the cemetery - many of whom may not have family in town - that he decided to make a push to secure more wreaths this year. Through a donation by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6977 and then smaller donations from individuals, he was able to procure about 225 wreaths.
Frederick said there are 1,100 veterans' graves among the 10,600 graves in the cemetery. He said this year, they will spread out the wreaths starting with the oldest sections - and First Parish has veterans of the Revolutionary War right up to current conflicts buried there. The goal is that, as years pass, more and more wreaths are procured until all 1,100 graves bear a wreath.
Last month, Frederick attended a Maine Cemetery Superintendents Association meeting, and the keynote speaker was the woman in charge of logistics for Wreaths Across America. "I told her we were involved in the program, and she said, 'You're the only nonveteran cemetery in Maine.' So that was pretty cool."
Frederick assured residents that First Parish Cemetery is still undertaking the annual wreath program it started last year, in which family members purchase a wreath for their loved one's grave. This Wreaths Across America effort is a separate program, he said.
Towle and Frederick are hoping this becomes an important program for the town, with donations by scout troops, civic organizations and others so that no veterans grave is unadorned in the years to come. Frederick said he's also put in a plug for the caravan to stop in York next year on their way south to Arlington, as they already do in Kennebunk and Wells.
"I think if we could double the number of wreaths next year, they would certainly take notice of us," he said.
Neither Frederick nor Towle are veterans. Towle was unable to serve due to medical reasons, and Frederick said it has always been a regret of his that he did not join. "I guess that's why it's so important to me that we honor these men and women.
"Laying a wreath is just a small way of thanking them for all they have sacrificed to make the country what it is today. Some served in time of war, some died fighting for our country, some served and went on to live a long life and raise a family. Whatever their story, we are remembering them this holiday season," he said.
Want to know more?
Residents are welcome to participate in the ceremony on Dec. 16, which will include remarks by Towle and others as well as a VFW color guard salute and taps. Following the ceremony, people may be asked to remain and lay a wreath on a grave.
The deadline for purchasing Wreaths Across America wreaths is closed for this year. However, donations for next year's program will be accepted. Wreaths cost $15 each. Checks should be made out to Wreaths Across America and sent to First Parish Cemetery, 180 York St., York 03909
Those who are interested in learning more about the separate wreath program that First Parish Cemetery offers are asked to call (207) 363-3647 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.