WAYNE, PA — On Saturday, December 17, 2022, all across the country at more than 3,400 participating locations, millions of Americans gathered as one nation to cover veterans’ graves with a Christmas wreath for Wreaths Across America.
The Jeptha Abbott Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Old Eagle School hosted their third-annual Wreaths Across America at the Old Eagle School Cemetery, Wayne, PA. Since the DAR dedicates itself to promoting patriotism, historic preservation, and education, and its members’ ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, it was fitting that these two organizations joined together again at this location. In 1765, when Jacob Sharraden bought the land around the Strafford Train Station, the tradition was to include a school with a connecting church and graveyard. The Old Eagle School Cemetery has nearly 200 marked and unmarked graves, including many early settlers and Revolutionary War soldiers. Many soldiers who died during the Valley Forge Encampment of the American Army in 1777-78 were buried there.
“Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear. We can worship as we see fit. We can raise our children to believe as we do. We are free to vote for the leaders of our choosing. And, we have the right to succeed, and we have the right to fail at whatever endeavor we wish to pursue,” said Old Eagle School President, Board of Trustees, Ashley White. “Today, we show a united front of gratitude and respect across the United States of America as we REMEMBER the Fallen, HONOR those who serve and their families, and TEACH the next generation the value of freedom.”
Before the Wreath-laying ceremony, Jeptha Abbott DAR Regent Teri Fischer announced that the DAR signed up as a partner with the Vietnam 50th Commemoration. As a result, Mrs. Fischer recognized Lieutenant (R)(jg) Michael Freeland of the U.S. Naval Reserve, who served in Vietnam with the Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin. The lapel pin symbolizes the DAR’s eagerness and our country’s desire to thank and honor our Vietnam War Veterans.
After this, Second Vice Regent Karen Franks Zetterberg introduced the speaker, Retired Rear Admiral Scott Clendenin. Scott served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 33 years. In his last assignment, he worked at U.S. headquarters responsible for U.S. Coast Guard policy in seven operational mission areas — emergency management and disaster response, defense operations, law enforcement, search and rescue, maritime security, counterterrorism, and marine environmental response.
Before this, he served at sea conducting multi-mission patrols from Canada to South America in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean. Scott was the Captain and commanding officer of four different Coast Guard Cutters, including the Hamilton, a 418-foot national security cutter named after Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of our country. His sea service included multi-ton narcotics seizures, illegal migrant smuggling interdictions, search and rescue, homeland security operations, defense operations, and maritime mass migration response. In addition, he worked extensively with international partner nations in global maritime operations and engagement exercises.
In his speech, Scott shared that Alexander Hamilton, the father of the U.S. Coast Guard, obtained the support of George Washington to build the nation’s first Coast Guard cutter (a type of sailboat Hamilton selected to be the first ship). Thus, to this day, the Coast Guard still uses this name to describe their boats.
Hamilton stood out not only for being the founding father of the U.S. Coast Guard but also for his bravery and quick thinking. During the Battle of Yorktown, Hamilton’s strategy in the attack was to approach the redoubts in silence with guns unloaded, encircle the enemy and force them to surrender quickly with few casualties. His plan worked. Hamilton’s troops took control of the redoubt within 10 minutes, with few American deaths.
Scott explained that the bravery shown by Hamilton is not unique to him but can be found in each of the men who lay in these graves and in the members of the DAR who strive to keep their memories alive.
“Today, we have the opportunity to honor and touch the graves of people who played a part in our national heritage. These service members and their families are a part of the long lineage of patriates — and an important part of our American story – a story we have all inherited and continue to write,” remarked Mr. Clendenin. “We are so fortunate to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth that serves as a beacon of freedom and democracy to the world.”
Next, the ceremony featured a wreath-laying ceremony representing each branch of the service. Those participating were:
- U.S. Air Force — Duane C. Parker, Jr., in honor of his father, Second Lieutenant Duane C. Parker, Sr., Phoenixville, PA;
- U.S. Army — Lieutenant Colonel (R) Mark O’Neill, U.S. Army, Special Forces, Bryn Mawr, PA;
- U.S. Coast Guard – Rear Admiral (R) Scott W. Clendenin, Alexandria, Virginia (formerly of Springfield, PA);
- US Marines — Lance Corporal (R) Anthony Fillipelli, Strafford, PA;
- US Merchant Marines — William Gresh, State President, PA Children of the American Revolution, in honor of his father, Staff Sergeant (R) Perry Gresh, Paoli, PA;
- U.S. Navy – Lieutenant (R) (j.g.) Michael W. Freeland, U.S. Navy Reserve, Wynnewood, PA;
- POW-MIA — Lieutenant (R) (j.g.) Thomas C. Deas, Jr., U.S. Navy, Surface Warfare Officer, Haverford, PA.
Additionally, the following members of the Pennsylvania Society Sons of the Revolution Color Guard presented the Colors: Jay Bowden, Wayne, PA; Jon Fitzgerald, Thornton, PA; Robert Flood, Montgomeryville, PA; Kip Gerhart, Philadelphia, PA; Perry Gresh, Paoli, PA; Rob McNelly, Collegeville, PA; and Leif Zetterberg, Bryn Mawr, PA.
Once the colors were retired, those who had purchased wreaths were asked to place them on a service member’s grave and say a silent prayer for that member and his family.
“We encourage every volunteer here today who places a wreath on a grave to say that name aloud and take a moment to thank them for their service to our country. It’s a small act that goes a long way toward keeping the memory of our patriots alive,” said Regent Fischer. “Remember, we are not here today to “decorate graves.” We are here to remember not their deaths but their lives. Each wreath is a gift of appreciation from a grateful America.”
The organization Wreaths Across America coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 3,400 locations across the United States, at sea, and abroad each December on National Wreaths Across America Day.
Wreaths Across America’s mission is to Remember, Honor, and Teach. Remember the Fallen. Honor those who serve and their families. Teach future generations the value of freedom.
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