Eleven tractor-trailers rolled into the parking lot of Glasgow High School on Thursday morning as they made the journey from Maine to Virginia to deliver thousands of wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery.
The trucks were part of the annual Wreaths Across America convoy, which was made up of veterans, Gold Star Families, police officers and motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders and other organizations.
The convoy left Maine on Dec. 7 and will arrive at Arlington on Saturday, stopping in dozens of towns along the way. This year’s Delaware stop was at Glasgow High, where the participants went into the auditorium for a ceremony attended by Glasgow students.
“I have had the honor of traveling in the escort to Arlington several times now and look forward to the opportunity each year to join my fellow Americans in saying not only my son Cherone’s name out loud, but that of so many of our heroes,” said Mona Gunn, president of American Gold Star Mothers. “Wreaths Across America provides opportunities for us to carry out our mission – finding strength in the fellowship of other Gold Star Mothers who strive to keep the memory of our sons and daughters alive by working to help veterans, those currently serving, their families and our communities.”
Wreaths Across America began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, had a surplus of wreaths and arranged to have them laid on graves at Arlington National Cemetery. The tradition continued largely unnoticed until 2005, when a photo of the wreaths went viral online.
The attention led to an influx of funds and volunteers, and the project expanded. Today, the project distributes more than 1.5 million wreaths at 2,000 locations across the country and overseas.
During the Glasgow High ceremony, the school band performed patriotic songs, ROTC cadets presented the colors, and local veteran advocates honored the families of several fallen service members from Delaware and the surrounding area. Each Gold Star Family was called up on stage and presented with a wreath while Judy Campbell, chair of Gold Star Families of Delaware, described their loved one’s sacrifice.
Campbell, who lost both her brother and her boyfriend in Vietnam, told the Glasgow students about the pain of losing a loved one in war.
“I try to tell the Gold Star Families it gets easier in time, But actually it doesn't,” Campbell said. “The only thing time does is help the Gold Star Families control the outward emotions. You forever miss people that were so much a part of your life.”
Larence Kirby, executive director of the Delaware Office of Veterans Services, told the students that it might seem hard to relate to older veterans but he reminded them that many Americans not much older than them have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He told the story of Senior Airman Elizabeth Loncki, a New Castle native who served as an explosive ordinance disposal expert in the U.S. Army. In 2007, at the age of 23, she became the first Delaware woman killed in Iraq.
“She disarmed bombs. She saved hundreds of lives, dare I say thousands,” Kirby said, noting that Loncki is now buried at the Delaware Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Bear. “This hero is 10 minutes from your school.”
On Saturday, there will be two wreath-laying ceremonies in the Newark area. One is set for noon at the Delaware Memorial Veterans Cemetery, 2465 Chesapeake City Road.
The other is set for 10 a.m. at Pencader Heritage Museum, 2029 Sunset Lake Road, at the site of the Cooch’s Bridge Battlefield. The wreaths will honor the Americans who died in Delaware’s only Revolutionary War battle.
“We’ll stop and remember the 24 kids, names unknown, who are buried just a mile from here,” said Bill Conley, a veteran and retired Glasgow High teacher who arranged for the convoy’s visit Thursday.