By Karen Zautyk
BELLEVILLE — At St. Peter’s Church Cemetery on William St. in Belleville, more than 90 red-ribbon-bedecked wreaths now mark the graves of township residents who served with honor in our nation’s military.
The holiday tribute is part of a program called Wreaths Across America, which was officially launched in 2007 and had grown progressively every year — its goal being “to remember and honor our country’s fallen heroes” and to teach younger generations “about the value of their freedoms and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms.”
This year, Belleville joined the project, led locally by Belleville Historical Society President Michael Perrone and Councilman Kevin Kennedy.
The BHS and Kennedy’s Civic Association both organized the effort and raised the money, approximately $800, to fund it. And, Perrone noted, thanks go to the Nutley-Belleville Shop-Rite, which provided the greenery at cost.
At noon on Saturday, Dec. 16, Fr. Ivan Sciberras, St. Peter’s pastor, blessed the wreaths at a ceremony attended by Mayor Raymond Kimble, Board of Education Trustees Tom Grolimond and Nelson Barrera, and American Legion Post 105 Commander Rich Holt, all of whom then joined a dozen volunteers in placing the wreaths in the snow-covered graveyard.
Volunteers, including Belleville High School students, played a vital role in the entire project, even tying all those velvet bows and attaching them to the wreaths — 130 in total. St. Peter’s was not the only site where local veterans were honored. Wreaths have also been placed at the historic Dutch Reformed Church and Christ Episcopal Church cemeteries.
Perrone noted: “In addition to the wreaths placed at the graves of the veterans buried in Belleville’s three cemeteries, one large wreath was set in the veterans’ section of Bloomfield’s Glendale Cemetery and additional wreaths were set at other out-of-town graves of historical significance.”
Perrone said these included the burial sites of Belleville World War I veteran, Pvt. Harry Garside, in Kearny’s Arlington Cemetery; the grave, in Rockaway, N.J., “of Revolutionary War Gen. William Winds, who marched his battalion to reinforce Belleville during the Battle of Second River in 1777, and that of Capt. John Post, in Passaic, who destroyed the bridge over the Passaic River in 1776, preventing the British pursuit of George Washington and the Continental Army.”
Another wreath was placed “in Baylor Park in River Vale, burial site of the Continental cavalrymen who were massacred while they slept.” [This savagery by the Brits, an event about which your correspondent knew nothing, occurred in 1778, and we intend to find out more and visit the Bergen County site.]
In addition, through the Wreaths Across America program, the BHS and Kennedy’s civic group sponsored a dozen wreaths for placement at Arlington National Cemetery.
Your correspondent also had known nothing about the national project, until this year, when Belleville joined. It apparently began in the 1970s with a single family — the Worcesters of Maine. Its entire fascinating, and uplifting, story can be found at wreathsacrossamerica.org.
Here’s just a sample: “In 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.
“In 2014, Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond, including ceremonies at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites of the September 11 tragedies.”
Also in 2014, the organization met its goal “of covering Arlington National Cemetery … with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.”
The entire project is clarified in the words of its executive director, Karen Worcester, who said of the veterans: “We are not here to ‘decorate graves.’ We’re here to remember not their deaths, but their lives.”