Belleville Historical Society expands for Wreaths Across America Day

BHS member Tom Grolimond places flags where wreaths will be placed later this month. The flags are there in case snow covers the ground, making it easier to find the proper graves.

Every year, the Belleville Historical Society takes part in Wreaths Across America Day. But in 2022, it’s taking on a completely different — and significantly special — meaning.

Here’s why.

U.S. Marine Corp Private First Class Donald Saunders of Belleville, Marine Corp Private First Class Richard Bates of Nutley, Marine Corp Lance Corporal Paul Christmas of North Carolina, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Edwin Aponte of Puerto Rico, a dozen other U.S. Marines, 15 U.S. Army personnel, two U.S. Navy Seaman and U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Calvin Alexander of Virginia were all killed in action in Vietnam and they all rest side by side in the same row “F” at Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield.

For Wreaths Across America Day, the Belleville Historical Society visits all local cemeteries, includes a journey to the veteran section of Glendale Cemetery for a simple ceremony of 15 wreaths. There, 15 young men from Belleville and Nutley who were killed in action during World War II and Vietnam rest.

“This year, because of great support and 50 sponsors for wreaths at Glendale, we were unsure how and where to place them among the thousands of veterans interred there,” Perrone said. “Most of the vets interred at Glendale survived the wars. Our hope was to locate young men who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

“As such, we decided to clean the entire (aforementioned) row of military stones and place the appropriate service flag for each man. On Dec. 17, we will return to set the 50 wreaths on our newly “adopted” platoon.

The vast majority of the military markers have long been blackened by time and the inscriptions are difficult if not impossible to read.

“The Belleville and Nutley boys all had their stones cleaned by our society a few years ago,” Perrone said. “We decided to clean the stones next to Donald Saunders and Richard Bates and were surprised to see that those two young men also lost their lives in Vietnam. we cleaned a few more stones and soon realized that the entire row of 35 servicemen were young men lost in Vietnam, three of whom were only 19 years old.”

The main ceremony takes place Saturday, Dec. 17 at noon at St. Peter’s Church cemetery, 155 William St., Belleville, followed by Glendale Cemetery at 1:30 p.m..

“This year we will set over 300 wreaths over a two-day period,” Perrone said. “Wreaths will be set at veteran graves at all Belleville and Nutley cemeteries as well as a dozen other cemeteries in North Jersey where young men from Belleville and Nutley who were killed in action are interred.”

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.