On an unusually mild and perfectly sunny Saturday, more than 200 volunteers gathered high above the Hudson River about an hour’s drive north of New York City to make sure more than several thousand members of the U.S. military were properly remembered.
Two tractor-trailers driven by military veterans delivered the cargo sent by Wreaths Across America to the cemetery at the West Point Military Academy. Before the end of the day Saturday, Dec. 5, balsam wreaths tied with red ribbons were laid upon all of the graves, all 7,004 of them.
Cadets from the academy founded in 1802, members of its faculty, kids from an elementary school and a church youth group and plenty of neighbors unloaded one truck from Pinnacle Freight Lines and another from Perdue Farms, which is based in Salisbury, Md. After a brief ceremony, they were joined by family members whose loved ones are buried at West Point in laying the wreaths of remembrance on the graves.
Wreaths will be laid on the graves of veterans at other cemeteries – including 230,000 at Arlington National Cemetery – Saturday, Dec. 12, the organization’s official day of remembrance. (West Point’s wreath laying was moved up a week so as not to conflict with the annual Army vs. Navy football game Dec. 12.)
Mark Dickinson, a 72-year-old Vietnam veteran drove Perdue’s truck to the event. Randy Scott, a veteran of the Royal Engineers in the British Army, drove the one from Pinnacle, a truckload carrier based in Secaucus, NJ. It was Scott’s second delivery to West Point for Wreaths Across America.
Both Dickinson and Scott laid wreaths on graves before returning to the road.
Dr. Todd Crowder, a professor at West Point, and Jackie and Dan McNally organized the day’s events. They’ve been involved since 2010, when they and a few other volunteers placed wreaths on just 70 graves for the first time.
The organizers said they had enough money for 6,000 wreaths this year until the Wounded Warriors Project stepped up to ensure they had enough for every grave.
Among the graves covered at West Point were those of:
- Gen. George Armstrong Custer
- Major General Daniel Bufferfield, composer of “Taps”
- Heisman Trophy Winner “Bullet” Glenn Davis
- Gen. Norman Schwarzhopf, commander of coaltion forces in the Gulf War
- Gen. William Westmoreland
- Lt. Col. Edward White III, the U.S. astronaut to make the first space walk and who died in the Apollo I fire
- 2nd Lt. Emily Perez, the first female West Point grad to die in combat in the Iraq War in 2006