Wreaths Across America to place wreaths Dec. 17 – Macomb Daily

Air National Guard Mario Jimenez says people in the Baltimore area are always surprised to learn that more than 600 military veterans are buried in the town’s two small cemeteries.

He and Jason Whitus, a US Army veteran, are coordinators of the New Baltimore Wreaths Across America area’s annual effort to place a wreath on each of those 600 graves at St. Mary’s and Oakwood Cemetery in a ceremony at noon Dec. 17 at St. Mary’s at 36105 24 Mile Road.

2021 Wreaths Across America at St. Mary's Cemetery, New Baltimore (Photos submitted by ANNE NICOLAZZO)
2021 Wreaths Across America at St. Mary’s Cemetery, New Baltimore (Photos submitted by ANNE NICOLAZZO)

Jimenez said it’s a real community effort with service clubs, veterans posts, city officials, Selfridge Air National Guard Base — and residents who have no connection to any of those, but want to show their respect.

People came out in force for a pasta dinner hosted by Veterans of Foreign Wars Lempke-Blackwell Post 7573 recently.

“We raised over $3,000 that night alone and an additional $500 in 50-50 raffles,” Jimenez said. “The success is a testament to our community. City officials and first responders came out and supported us.

The program includes speakers, a possible flyover, and a tribute to soldiers who are prisoners of war or missing in action.

“We’re expecting around 400 people. They are coming because of word of mouth,” said Jimenez. “Everyone seems to be talking about it. I heard it at the grocery store, at church. Many people are excited about the opportunity to honor veterans. It’s really cool to see. There is strong support for the military in the greater Anchor Bay area. When I drive through my own subdivision, there are flags everywhere, including the POW-MIA flag. But as we get further away from conflicts, the younger generation becomes isolated. That’s why we’re involved with the schools in Wreaths Across America.”

A person carrying a wreath
2021 Wreaths Across America at St. Mary’s Cemetery, New Baltimore (Photos submitted by ANNE NICOLAZZO)

He said Anchor Bay High School’s ROTC is participating, and he and Whitus are actively getting scout troops and as many faith-based organizations as possible to participate. A primary school choir is planned to sing the national anthem.

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Wreaths Across America Day is a huge undertaking, from Arlington National Cemetery, to ancient cemeteries located in all 50 states, to local cemeteries, at sea, and overseas – some 2,800 locations in all. WAA’s goal is to “remember, honor and teach about veterans in cemeteries, monuments and parks.”

wreaths at a cemetery
2021 Wreaths Across America at St. Mary’s Cemetery, New Baltimore (Photos submitted by ANNE NICOLAZZO)

See wreathsacrossamerica.org for a list of all cemeteries and their event organizers.

wreaths at a cemetery
2021 Wreaths Across America at St. Mary’s Cemetery, New Baltimore (Photos submitted by ANNE NICOLAZZO)

Wreaths are created as balsam branches, shaped, and hand-tied with red velvet bows at the Worchester Wreath Company in Maine. They end up in the hands of volunteers who say the veterans’ names out loud just before they place the wreaths on their graves on what is known as Winter Remembrance Day.

Wreaths are sold online for $15 each. Many groups donate money and sponsor wreaths at specific cemeteries, even specific graves, if they are set up early enough. Non-profit groups can sell the wreaths and earn money for their own programs. These include Blue Star Mothers Blue Water Chapter 180, and Knights of Columbus 4th Degree Congregation 2599, supporting Cadillac Memorial Gardens in Clinton Township.

Some of the groups that sponsor wreaths at Resurrection Cemetery include American Heritage Girls, AMVETS Post 121, and the Eastern Michigan WOW Chapter of Rosie the Rivers of America.

Karen Straffon has been the WAA coordinator at Resurrection, at 18201 Clinton River Road, Clinton Township for many years.

The American Legion Post 4 Honor Guard leads the program at noon Dec. 17 at the veterans honor section. The Piper is Jim Lyon, and the participants are from the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus, and World War II Re-enactors from the Michigan Military Historical & Technical Society.

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Lyon is a Vietnam veteran, having served in the US Army as an infantry soldier, among other posts.

He learned how to play the pipes at the age of 14 but put them aside for 35 years.

“I started playing the pipes again and have played for many funerals, memorials, weddings, golf outings, and birthday parties over the past 15 years, as well as an annual event for Michigan’s paralyzed veterans,” he said.

Straffon said plaques will be given to Lyon and the Mission BBQ restaurant for their support of military and vets.

Christopher Sroka of Warren who died in an apartment fire, just before he was to be deployed, has been recognized as a Fallen Hero. He was a wheeled vehicle mechanic in the 1st Cavalry Division. People described the young man as respectful, reserved and humble, selfless, and a dedicated soldier.

After the guest speaker Col. Steven Carozza, US Army TACOM Chief of Staff, ceremonial wreath laying. Carozza served with the 82nd Airborne Division in Germany, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Carozza and the re-enactors are escorted by his daughter Jennifer Hong to place the first wreath on the grave of World War II veteran Lawrence Walsh.

Representing the US Army in the ceremonies are: former US Army command sergeant major Charlotte Randazzo — now assisting Straffon; US Navy Builder Jeffrey Yoscovits; Retired US Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Rowdy Stillwell; US Merchant Marine Canada retired lieutenant colonel, Morris Brause; US Coast Guard chief officer Dominic Cain; United States Air Force First Class Wayne Whisman; and US Space Force staff sergeant Brenda Scanlon.

Debbie Kallas of the Raising American Heroes Organization, and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 154 honor guard, conducts ceremonies at the POW-MIA tablets with a wreath. The Post 4 honor guard closes the ceremony with a rifle salute and Taps.

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Monday, November 28 is the last day to sponsor wreaths for Lochamore National Cemetery, 4200 Belford Road, Cullen. The organizers hope it teaches children the value of freedom. The ceremony starts at 11 am. December 17. Parking is available at Ascension Genesys Hospital’s north parking lot on Pollock Road, with free shuttle service. Parking in the cemetery is limited to vehicles transporting people with disabilities. Visit facebook.com/WAAGLNC

January 21st is the clean day to build the wreaths.

Matt Hare and Mike McDougall are site coordinators for the national cemetery.

“We also operate a Matrix Expedited service,” Hare said. “Since 2015 we have been participating in WAA and this year we will send three semi-trucks to Maine to load wreaths for several cemeteries in Michigan, including Holly. Although it would be great to see a wreath placed on every stone we know that is a tall order. Last year 16,000 wreaths were laid at Holly, all through private donations. Our target this year is 20,000. See wreathsacrossamerica.org/pages/150460

The volunteer Great Lakes National Cemetery Advisory Council says the number of burials in October was 57,832, making GLNC the fifth busiest cemetery in the VA system. The Advisory Council purchased $250 worth of wreaths.

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