By Mark Reynolds
A special Wreaths Across America ceremony was held at the Ulster County Veterans Cemetery in New Paltz on December 19 as a way to remember and honor more than 850 Veterans who are laid to rest there.
Lloyd Police Chief James Janso said he and members of his department became involved in this event last year. He found the grave of Sgt. Herbert B. Johnson, a Purple Heart recipient who was killed in action in 1968 in Long An Province in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. Johnson was an Infantry Operations and Intelligence Specialist who served in the 9th Infantry Division, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry B Company. Johnson was 18 at the time of his death and his grave in the cemetery is set off by itself under an old oak tree.
Janso noticed that Sgt. Johnson’s grave, “was in a wooded area all by itself, with no one else around him. I just happened to see it out of the corner of my eye and it had no Veteran marker. I don’t know how he ended up being buried in New Paltz.” Janso laid a wreath on his grave.
Janso said the ceremony, “is a great opportunity to pay respect to Veterans at this time of year. We hire Veterans here. You’ve got to give back a little bit and recognize Vets whenever you can.”
Janso said his brother is a Veteran and his father served during the Korean Conflict. He would like to form a grass roots committee so that wreaths can be placed in the Highland and Lloyd Union cemeteries.
“Maybe when I retire I’ll pick that ball up and run with it,” he said.
Mark Cozzupoli, Director Veteran Services for Ulster County, led the wreath ceremony. He began by calling for a moment of silence, “to remember the fallen, the prisoners of war, those missing in action and to honor those who have served and are serving in this great nation’s Armed Services.” The Pledge of Allegiance followed.
Cozzupoli said similar wreath ceremonies were being held in more than 2,200 different locations simultaneously across the country.
“It is so wonderful and outstanding to see that our community can be involved in something as great as this that brings unity across our nation,” he said. “So many things happened this year – division, a pandemic, snowstorms – it is wonderful that as a community we still show up and make sure that we show our respect to our Veterans, to those who have served and to those who have given so much to this great nation.”
Cozzupoli said the Liberty that Americans enjoy today has not come without a price.
“Lying here before us and in cemeteries across this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear,” he said. “This nation has always been the first to stand up for the freedom of people from around the world.”
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, himself an Army Veteran, offered his thoughts on this ceremony.
“I think this is a really fitting occasion and ceremony at the end of this year, heading into next year,” he said. “The three elements of what Wreaths Across America is all about; remembering the millions who have given their lives, who have passed and served and honoring those who are serving right now and are in harms way.”
The Color Guard presented their Arms as Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts laid the first wreaths on the graves in the cemetery. A 21 gun salute and the playing of Taps followed. The public then fanned out across the cemetery to lay wreaths on the graves as they quietly said the names of the Veterans they were honoring.
Cozzupoli closed by acknowledging the brevity of the ceremony, “but I hope it was powerful. Enjoy your day.”
Wreaths Across America was created in 1992 by Morrill Worchester, a Maine wreath maker who found himself with a surplus of 5,000 wreaths after the 1992 holiday season. With the help of Maine Senator Olympia Snow, Worchester arranged to have the wreaths placed on soldiers graves at the Arlington National Cemetery to honor their service and sacrifice. It grew from there and in 2007 the Worchester family formed the non profit Wreaths Across America to continue and spread this tradition. The organization’s mission is to remember the fallen, honor those that serve and to teach the next generation about the value of freedom. This year the Wreaths Across America’s theme was “Be an American Worth Fighting For.”