Our chapter takes a part in the annual Wreaths Across America project in conjunction with the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies located in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Twenty-five years ago a fellow by the name of Merrill Worcester, the owner of a nursery located in Harrington, Maine had an overabundance of Christmas wreaths and nothing to do with them. Remembering a trip he had taken to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., he had the idea to donate his excess wreaths to the Arlington National Cemetery to be placed on veterans graves as a gesture of remembrance and honor for those men and women that have served our country. This act of one man has grown into what is known today as “Wreaths Across America.”
As word spread, especially those pictures of snow covered graves with wreaths leaning against the headstones, additional cemeteries were included. In 2015, 901,000 wreaths were placed on veterans’ graves at over 1,108 cemeteries in this country and 25 veterans cemeteries on foreign soil. Wreaths Across America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to REMEMBER the fallen – HONOR those who serve, and TEACH our children the value of freedom.
The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies was established in 2005 after careful consideration and research was given as to how many veterans are in our tristate area. It was estimated that there are in excess of 323,000 veterans. The other closest veterans’ cemeteries are located in Rittman, Ohio; Indian Town Gap in Pennsylvania; Grafton, WV; and in Dunbar, WV. The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies is situated on 300 acres near the Washington and Allegheny County line and can be seen from I-79. It can accommodate casketed and cremated remains. The cremated remains can be buried either in the ground or in specially designed wall sections or “niches.”
Before becoming a National Cemetery it had been continuously farmed since the 1800’s when John Fawcett, a Revolutionary War veteran, was given the property as pay for his war service. Fawcett also played an important role in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. There was already a family cemetery on the property, which contains the remains of Fawcett as well as another Revolutionary War veteran Richard Boyce and several members of both families. This part of the original cemetery will remain as is. Although a Boy Scout did install a walking path around this part of the cemetery as a part of his Eagle Scout project.
As the end of 2018, over 12,000 people have been interred in this cemetery and each year that we participate in Wreaths Across America, you can see the new sections that have opened up since the year before. The cemetery is open to veterans, their wives or husbands, and also dependent children. The most notable person buried in this cemetery is First Lieutenant, U. S. Army Air Force, Charles William Tate who was a WWII veteran and one of the famed Tuskegee Airman. He was a recipient of the Air medal with four oak leaf clusters and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Our George Washington Chapter started our partnership with the NCA in 2008 when we raised the funds to purchase and donate an electric four person cart to transport families around the cemetery. We also dedicated a “ boulder” in a memorial walkway that reads, “In memory of all the Revolutionary War soldiers whose burial site is known only to God.”
In 2009, which was our Chapter’s first year of wreaths participation, there were nearly 3,000 graves and we only had 800 wreaths that were placed. To show how this program has grown, with a count of around 9,000 buried there last year, we placed 7,200 wreaths. Of those 7,200 wreaths, our George Washington Chapter was responsible for 1,765 wreaths, making us one of the largest groups to gather sponsorships for this cemetery and last year. For the first time, every grave was marked. It is so humbling to join family, friends, veterans, youth and church groups, and other volunteers that took time out on a cold Saturday in December to place wreaths on these graves. We encourage participants not to just place wreaths, but to take a moment to read the name of the person buried there along with their branch of service and the war they took part in.
People have said to me, “I don’t know anyone that is buried there.” My response to them is, these veterans (the men and women) that are buried there didn’t know you, but when they fought on foreign lands, they made the ultimate sacrifice for you. Here are pictures from past Wreaths Across America project at the Cemetery of The Alleghenies in Washington County, PA.