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November 26, 2021 - 12:00am

Wreaths Across America comes to Genesee County to honor veterans

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Several years of volunteer time, energy and collaboration will come together next month for a wreath-laying ceremony at Western New York National Cemetery in Corfu.

The cemetery was officially opened in December 2020, and now for the first time, it will play host to a Wreaths Across America ceremony featuring Keynote Speaker and Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia, the laying of wreaths for at least 700 fallen soldiers, and an Honor Guard, Public Affairs Chairman Patrick Welch said.

“This is the first year, and we feel we’re doing fairly well,” he said to The Batavian on behalf of the cemetery’s council. “We’re at 530 wreaths purchased … from everywhere in Western New York. We’re looking to sell around another 200 by the close of business on Monday.”

Yes, the clock is ticking to buy a wreath for a veteran’s grave. The deadline for orders is Monday, Nov. 29. People have the option to lay the wreath themselves during the event or someone else will take care of it. This link ensures that wreaths purchased are designated for Western New York: www.wreathsacrossAmerica.org/NY0368P

The Western New York National Cemetery Council, classified as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit,  will receive $5 from each wreath purchased. Proceeds will go toward necessary items not provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration due to a lack of resources or legal restrictions, Welch said.

He gave two examples of such necessary purchases. The VA provided a construction trailer to house Honor Guardsmen in between funeral services. Only thing was that it was empty, so the Council had to buy furniture, a refrigerator and/or coffee pot so the Honor Guard could keep warm and relax for a while before heading out again. Another need was for some type of vehicle to transport the guardsmen — who are typically 60 to 80 years old — around the cemetery to designated gravesites.

“So we had to go out and raise money to get golf carts so that we can transport the honor guard around the cemetery through the services,” Welch said. “Those are just a couple of examples.”

Wreaths are $15 apiece. If more wreaths are purchased than needed, the credit will go toward a purchase for next year’s ceremony and burials, he said. The ceremony is open to the public, and Welch recommends that visitors show up early, as seating is limited. Visitors may want to bring a lawn chair to ensure seating for the event.

There is to be a multi-phase development of the cemetery, which will include a columbarium to house cremations on-site. That project and other additions are set to begin in 2022, said Welch, a retired U.S. Marine from Amherst. Although he has been working on this effort for several years, it isn't about him, he said. 

“It’s about the cemetery and those that served this country,” he said. 

Wreaths Across America started as a simple gesture of thanks, organizers said in a news release. The effort has grown into a national movement of dedicated volunteers and communities coming together to "not only remember the nation’s fallen and honor their service but to teach the next generation about the sacrifices made for us to live freely," it stated. This year, there will be more than 2,500 participating locations placing wreaths on National Wreaths Across America Day – Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021 – with more than two million volunteers coming together.

“We are forever grateful for the thousands of supporters who dedicate their time and effort to fulfilling our mission on a local level,” said Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America. “These individuals and their communities know the value of remembering the fallen, honoring those who currently serve, and teaching the next generation about the sacrifices made for our freedom every day, and without their continued support, Wreaths Across America would not exist.”  

In May 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration purchased 132-acres in Corfu for $625,000, and acquired two additional parcels of land in 2018. Western New York National Cemetery is a 269-acre Department of Veteran Affairs national cemetery located at 1254 Indian Falls Rd. and Route 77, Corfu.

The council sought permission to include an Avenue of Flags and was granted permission as only one of three cemeteries to have one. The flags hold special significance as having been draped over veterans' caskets and donated for this purpose. 

According to the WNY cemetery website, it serves the needs of more than 98,000 veterans, spouses, and eligible children within a 75-mile radius of Batavia. For more information about the cemetery, go to:  https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/WesternNewYork.asp#hi

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Top photo: The Avenue of Flags, Honor Guard and entrance at Western New York National Cemetery in Corfu. Photos submitted by Patrick Welch

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