A cold wind blew across Mill Creek on Dec. 13 as members of the American Legion Auxiliary from Bayonne stood in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Secaucus waiting for people out of New York to arrive.
Roberta Buchanan, one of the auxiliary members, had chosen to drive her own car up from Wendy’s restaurant in Bayonne, where local veterans had gathered for the motorcycle trek north. Some had come up from Bayonne on bicycle despite the chill.
“As we waited in the staging area, we saw the convoy coming, and it was very impressive.” — Roberta Buchanan
Called Patriot Guard Riders, each state along the way took possession of the wreathes to carry on to the next state, and in the cold wind of a Secaucus December, the Patriot Guard Riders of New Jersey waited for their turn to take the wreaths from the convoy coming out of New York so that they could carry them across the state to riders waiting in Pennsylvania.
“As we waited in the staging area, we saw the convoy coming and it was very impressive,” Buchanan said. “The convoy was handed off from the NY PGR to us, and we felt very honored to escort it to Yardley, Pa., into the hands of the PA PGR.”
Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization, was formed as an extension of the Arlington Wreath Project, which was started by a Morrill Worchester in 1992, whose company – Worchester Wreath – vowed to lay 5,000 Christmas wreathes on the graves of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.
Begun as more or less local event, the ceremony grew into a national movement when photos of the wreath-adorned grave stones began to circulate on the internet in 2005.
Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to emulate the Arlington project at their national and state cemeteries spurred the creation of the Wreaths Across America program. Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester conceived the idea of sending seven wreaths (one for each branch of the military, as well as POW/MIA). In 2006 with the help of the several veterans and civic organizations, over 150 locations held wreath laying ceremonies simultaneously.
The Patriot Guard Riders volunteered as escorts for the wreaths going to Arlington. This began the annual “Veterans Honor Parade” that travels the east coast in early December.
By 2007, the requests for more wreaths grew. The Worcester family established the nonprofit group Wreaths Across America to further promote veterans remembrance. By 2008, over 300 locations held wreath laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries. Over 100,000 wreaths were placed on veterans graves. Over 60,000 volunteers participated.
The wreath laying is now held annually on the second Saturday of December. Dec. 13 was unanimously voted by the U.S. Congress as Wreaths Across America Day.
Helping out for Christmas
The Auxiliary from the American Legion Post wanted to find ways to help people this year for the holiday season. Perhaps this had to do with the hard times some media have called “The Great Recession.”
So to start with, the auxiliary decided to adopt a Bayonne family, one that due to difficulties as a result of the hard economic times wouldn’t be able to provide an adequate Christmas.
The post, according to Buchanan, provided toys for the family’s kids, Christmas stockings, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner on Christmas day, not to mention some goodie bags for the parents and a gift certificate for them to take to the supermarket later.
“What joy to see the mother’s face when we delivered this to her,” Buchanan said. “Our prayers are with them that the New Year brings a healthier and more prosperous year for this wonderful family.”
After Christmas, the Auxiliary invited patients from Lyons Veterans Hospital in East Orange to attend a party at Post 19 American Legion Hall on Dec. 27.
“We had 23 in patient veterans from Lyons Hospital for a day of good food, conversations, presents and dancing,” she said. “These brave men ranged from the Korean War, Vietnam War, right to the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We sang, danced and talked with them all afternoon after having a turkey/loin of pork dinner.”
To pay for these events, the post held a number of fundraisers that included running tricky-trays, coin tosses and other functions.
Anyone that would like to join the Auxiliary can contact Roberta Buchanan at (201) 988-1852, or Debra Noble at (201) 852-0995. The qualifications are few: you must have a husband, son, grandfather, or great grandfather that served in any branch of the military.