By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
On Saturday, members of the Greater Rome Utica (N.Y.) Chapter will hold ceremonies at six local cemeteries before working together with other volunteers to place approximately 1,500 wreaths on the graves of veterans.
For the past decade, the chapter, like other MOAA affiliates, has been honoring veterans during the holiday season by participating in Wreaths Across America Day each December. They join in the nationwide mission to remember, honor, and teach by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery as well as at more than 2,500 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad.
Lt. Col. Joseph Maurer, USAR (Ret), past president of the Greater Rome Utica Chapter, organizes the chapter’s effort. He and other volunteers work for several months leading up to Wreaths Across America Day to encourage businesses, organizations, and individuals in the community to sponsor wreaths.
He said the chapter’s participation not only helps to fulfill the mission of Wreaths Across America Day, but it also serves as a fundraiser for other chapter efforts.
“We have a rather small chapter that is involved with supporting several youth groups — Junior ROTC [JROTC] programs,” he said. “Wreaths Across America helps us to raise more than $5,000 a year to support these programs. It also gives us the opportunity to involve young kids, who participate in the wreath-laying ceremonies.”
Maurer points out that the cost to sponsor a wreath is $15, and the chapter receives $5 back for every wreath.
“We immediately reinvest that money in youth activities — supplementing JROTC training and travel programs … so kids from all backgrounds have the opportunity to fully participate,” he said.
Community involvement is crucial to the success of Wreaths Across America. Mauer said the local community is very supportive.
“A lot of businesses are on board year after year,” he said. “Most people are quite patriotic in our area. Often people will sponsor several wreaths to be placed on specific graves and then add in extra money for veterans’ graves with no survivors.”
Members of the community also show their support by attending the ceremonies and volunteering to place the wreaths.
“About 200 people attend each ceremony,” which are held simultaneously, said Mauer. “Weather can be very crucial in our area, but we never cancel for weather. The people attending are there voluntarily, and they’re very patriotic. We get families, Boy Scouts, members of youth organizations — we try to get as many people as possible. That’s why I find it to be very enjoyable, because it involves a lot of people, and it helps us involve youth.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.