Snow, freezing rain, and then wind and rain greeted those attending Wreaths Across America on December 17. Those gathered at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale were the largest in number since the tradition began. It was almost as if each person there committed to attending for fear that others might not. Representatives of Manhasset’s American Legion Auxiliary, American Legion and Boy Scout Troop 97 were among those present.
At noon Volunteer Location Coordinator, Harry Rathsam, approached the podium as he has done for years. The wind and rain stopped, the umbrellas closed, and the ceremony began. Harry explained the reasons for Wreaths Across America: to REMEMBER our fallen U.S. veterans, to HONOR those who serve and to TEACH children the value of freedom.
Remembering and honoring were both accomplished that day when many presented the names of family members and friends who are now serving or who had served or given their lives for our great nation. Pat O’Brien, President of Manhasset’s American Legion Auxiliary, remembered 1st LT Michael LiCalzi and his three fellow Marines who lost their lives together in Iraq in 2006. The American Legion Auxiliary recently learned about Mike from his twin brother and Dad, both of whom are named Greg. They founded “Ace in the Hole Foundation” to keep Mike’s memory alive and to offer assistance to veterans and others in need. The Foundation made a very generous donation to the American Legion Auxiliary’s project which provided Christmas and holiday gifts to the veterans at the Northport VA Medical Center.
John D’Angelo and Selva Venkatesan, who attended with their children in Troop 97, took seriously the mandate to teach the value of freedom. Adults and children alike were touched by the words quoted from President Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Some of the parents were Gold Star mothers and fathers, parents who lost their children to war. It is always sad to speak to them privately, sometimes at the gravesite of their child. But they share a common thread. Their interest lies in telling the story of their child’s life, rather than their death. The hugs given and received at such times carry the parent and the listener through what is always a difficult but beautiful day.
Hundreds of wreaths were available for placement. Members of Troop 97 and the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary placed them on the graves of our nation’s heroes with reverence and respect. Tasked with saying the name aloud to ensure remembrance, each did so and then returned home to research that hero to discover his or her mark on the preservation of freedom.
To learn more about the program and how you can participate in 2017 visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org or contact Pat O’Brien at email@example.com.