Solemn Patriotic Observance Begins With Extensive Community Involvement (12/12/19)

(Above photo: Wreaths Across America tractor trailer just after arriving at Immaculate Conception School

This Saturday, December 14th, the Clarion Community will take part in the Wreaths Across America project, which is dedicated to placing wreaths on the graves of every veteran.

The Ceremony and and wreath laying will begin at noon, at the Clarion and Immaculate Conception Cemeteries, on Second Avenue in Clarion.

Organizers are hoping there will be a large turnout from folks from throughout the county to lay the wreaths. It is best to be there by 11:30AM. Thanks to the hard work of Clarion Wreaths Across America coordinator Noreen Shirey and a host of other volunteers throughout the community and generous contributions, all 1,040 veterans’ graves will have a wreath placed on them.

Huge American Flag displayed by Clarion Fire Department

The solemn observance actually began in Clarion on Wednesday (December 11th). Both sides of Main Street were lined with American flags and Clarion Fire & Hose Company No 1 prominently displayed their huge huge American flag extended high in the air from their ladder truck at the Immaculate Conception School.

Just a few of the American Flags lining Main Street

Clarion Fire & Hose Company No. 1 Lieutenant and President Mike Chesterfield said, “We reached out to Noreen and said that the fire department would like to take part in any way that we can help out. So we sat down and we had a couple of conversations. We came up with putting up the flags all down Main Street, to make a little bit of a parade route and then using the ladder truck in displaying our large flag over the street, where he’ll stop here at the I-C Church.

“(Transport driver Chuck Andrews) will let the students take a look at the truck and do a little ceremony here. So we said we’ll take part in that and also on Saturday, we’ll go up and have as many members of our department take part in the actual wreath laying ceremony, up at the cemeteries on the 14th.

Some of the members of Clarion Fire & Hose Company No 1, who took part: (L-R) Chris Himes, Doug Preston, Clenn LaForme, Mike Chesterfield, Matt Preston, Scott Sharrar, Justin Galati, Vinnie Dongilli and Jim Thornton

“We just felt that it is part of our community and we have members of our fire department that are veterans. We definitely wanted to take part and honor them along with all the veterans that are buried up at the cemetery.”

I-C students and faculty

With the Reverend Monty Sayers, the entire I-C student body and teachers and staff gathered in the parking lot, to greet the Wreaths Across America transport, which was escorted into town by the Clarion and Limestone Township Volunteer Fire Departments.

Randy Reynolds with the Limestone Fire Company said, I know Noreen has put in lots of work for this. It is such a great cause and we are just happy to be a part of it.”

Limestone Township Fire Department members who helped escort the transport: (L-R) Spencer Shirey, Randy Reynolds, Rodney Buzard and Roger Simpson

Transport driver Chuck Andrews, accompanied by his brother and dog pulled over, and got out of the vehicle to thank the kids and also share information about Wreaths Across America. The students were encouraged to sign the banner on the front of the rig.

Reverend Sayers said, “The school students will be taking part in the wreath laying ceremony on Saturday. Our P.T.O. families are engaged in that as well. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to participate in a wonderful civic observance. And the fact that the driver Chuck went to Catholic school, just adds to the event.”

I-C Student Council with driver Chuck Andrews and Reverend Sayers: (L-R) Camden Coleman, Joey Spence, Kennedy Haggerty, Riley Morris, Megan & Colin Haggerty.

While at I-C, Chuck Andrews shared a lot about Wreaths Across America with reporters: “They are real wreaths. There is a tag in the back for the veteran. When they place the wreath on the veteran’s grave, what we ask is that you say the name of the Vet on the grave. That way they are remembered.”

“(The wreaths are made in) Columbia Falls, Maine. They make them for here and Arlington; everything comes out of Columbia Falls. They load fifty to a hundred trucks a day. And they’ve been doing it for two weeks straight. I have twenty-eight pallets and twenty-one boxes. I don’t dare open the door until we get to where we are going to unload them, because they are going to fall out. It is jam packed; I’d say at least 4,000 maybe more.

Chuck Andrews and Noreen Shirey, with Chuck’s best friend and companion Lucy

“I had six stops last year. I have eight this year. You’re a new stop. I’ve got to hand it to Noreen. She said she’s got enough wreaths for each veteran’s grave here. That is remarkable. My cemetery at Rittman, Ohio, the National Cemetery; they have 32,000 graves. They only got a little over half. And we’re in a big city, so that breaks my heart. So for a small town to gather together and raise enough money and get enough wreaths to get every veteran’s grave here, that’s amazing. That is to be commended. You guys are awesome.

“1,040 wreaths are coming here, for the veterans’ graves here. I’m speechless. For a first year, to be able to do that, that is impressive. I’m just so thrilled to be able to be a part of that. I’ve got eight stops this year. This is my first. I have a big parade like this on Friday, in Bridgeport, West Virginia. So I’ll leave here and by the end of today, I’m in Girard, Ohio. Tomorrow morning, I start in (the National) Cemetery of the Alleghenies (in Pittsburgh)… then… there is a funeral home in Wellsburg, West Virginia. Last year, it was an evening ceremony with hot chocolate and cookies and stuff. But it brings the community out. The whole goal is to bring out the community involvement. We’ve got to have community involvement.

“I love to do it. This and Christmas. You feel like Santa Claus. So when I get home we have other stuff; we have to get ready for the holidays. My brother and I do other stuff for things going on in Cleveland. …I have a couple of friends that were Marines. I love the Marines. Our stepdad was in the Air Force. My nephew is in the Air Force. I have Army friends; I can’t leave my Army friends out… they’ll hate me. I love to do it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a labor of love.”

Mrs. Mills and players welcoming Wreaths Across America transport

After the stop at Immaculate Conception, the caravan proceeded to Liberty Street and pulled off in front of Clarion Area High School, where Athletic Director Nancy Mills and a number of football players gathered to greet Mr. Andrews and company. He thanked the players for taking up the project, as he did the I-C students, and the players thanked him in return. The players also were encouraged to sign the banner.

Tyler Schmader signing the banner

The I-C students and the combined Clarion, North Clarion and Clarion-Limestone football players along with the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts will take part in Saturday’s ceremony.

Bobcat Football Player Ethan Burford said, “It’s very special. It’s great that our football team all came out to do this. It’s for a great cause. My uncle served in the military. A lot of my family served in the military. It’s just something special for all of us to be out here doing this. It’s an awesome experience.” (Ethan’s mother Laura’s brother was a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. He died in a car accident in the states after an eight month deployment to the Persian Gulf. He was still serving. Her late father was a Korean War veteran. Ethan’s father Brian’s brother, Brent, is a Vietnam veteran.)

Players pose with Chuck Andrews and his brother

Clarion Area Superintendent Joe Carrico had this to say, “We think it is a wonderful opportunity. The football coach and the football program organized it with the boosters. It shows a tremendous amount of respect for our service men and women. The least we can do is help out and show a little bit of respect.”

Clarion Bobcat Head Coach Larry Wiser, son of a Military officer, is pleased to have the team sponsoring and participating in this great endeavor, “This event provides an opportunity for the Clarion Football Team to give something back to this community. The Clarion Community has provided a tremendous amount of support for the team this year.

“Today we are honored to have this opportunity to recognize over 1,000 men and women stretching over a century for their unselfish effort to protect this country. I expect that as we (Team) place a wreath at the grave site, that  each of these players will reflect on the sacrifices of veterans.”

After the stop at the high school, the procession headed to the lot across from the cemetery, to unload the wreaths. Due to the size of the rig, the wreaths had to be off-loaded from the truck and onto a small trailer and several pickup trucks and transported to the storage building at the cemetery, from where they will be distributed for placing on Saturday.

The cargo is unveiled. The wreath in front is dedicated to Chuck Andrews’ stepfather

Members of both fire companies and a number of community volunteers helped with the off-loading, transportation to the building and storage.

I caught up with Noreen Shirey as the wreaths were being transferred. She shared about how she got involved with this great project, “I decided to be the coordinator for Clarion Wreaths Across America because my dad’s a veteran and he’s buried here at the cemetery.

“My son Spencer was in the Civil Air Patrol,a few years ago, got to go to Arlington which is how we heard about this project.

“We’d been sponsoring wreaths there for a long time, but last year I decided that I wanted to bring it to Clarion, so that we could honor our Clarion County veterans as well. So I started in January and a lot of people hopped on board to ensure that we have a wreath for every veteran that is (buried) here on Second Avenue.”

Volunteers transferring wreaths

She mentioned some of the youth that will be involved on Saturday, “It was a great, successful year for the united football team. They were a big part, will be a big part placing wreaths, this Saturday, when we have our ceremony. The Cub Scouts and the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts will all be here as well. The mission for Wreaths Across America is “Remember, Honor and Teach” the next generation, so that they understand and appreciate the freedoms that our military has ensured for us.

Some of the vehicles used

“I think the I-C kids will be here as well. They will be placing wreaths. Since there is two cemeteries (the Clarion Cemetery and the Immaculate Conception Cemetery), kids will be coming out from all areas of the county, I expect.”

Its kind of nice for them to understand that Chuck, our driver, volunteered his time and his truck, to leave his state, Ohio, to go up to Maine. He’s done this trip several times. We are his first stop but he has multiple stops in Pennsylvania, then he goes on to West Virginia and back up to Girard, Ohio.

And about the fire departments, “Clarion Fire and Limestone Fire are here today. They provided the escort into Clarion as Chuck got off Interstate 80 and led us through town at both of our stops at the I-C Elementary School and the Clarion High School. They are also sticking around, thankfully and helping us (the community members helping with the transfer) unload the truck to get our boxes down to the garage in the cemetery, where we will store them until Saturday.”

Volunteers storing wreaths for Saturday

Kim Cherico, Vice President of Clarion Football Boosters shared her thanks for Noreen and others who have brought this great event to fruition, “Our Clarion football team selects new community service projects each football season.  This particular project, that the football athletes and booster club chose, was an idea brought to us back in December of 2018. 

“A few years ago Noreen Shirey, our local WAA rep, along with three of our football families, were part of another local organization that traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for the Wreaths Across America event. Those football families returned back to Clarion with the same feeling, we should be honoring our hometown veterans.  Noreen took the reins and ran with it.  Noreen is truly an awesome community volunteer; she is dedicated and very caring.  I wish to publicly thank Noreen for months of her hard work, from all those late night text messages to (answer) hundreds of questions. Today, I see it coming together.  I am so very proud of her and I am truly in awe of what she has done for our community. 

Part of the motorcade on Liberty Street

“Working with our football family, that now has three school districts, this service project was an experience I will never forget.  From January to today, together with Noreen, we learned about the entire WAA program, how to set it up in our town, what responsibilities we had, we established web sites, and we did a lot of promoting over the summer months. 

“Today, seeing that semi-truck turn the corner on 8th Ave, with the fire truck escort, and Chuck the volunteer driver who drove here from Maine, sounding off his truck horn, it made me choke up. There are over 1,000 wreaths inside the back of that semi-truck.” 

Kim sends out this request, “On Saturday, we are asking you our local citizens, clubs and organizations to come with us, the Clarion Football Team, to the Clarion cemetery at 11:30 am to help honor our very own local military heroes.  Dress in your warm coat, hat and gloves and come for an hour to be a part of our football family.” 

She shared on the immensity of this event nationwide, “Simultaneously at noon, across the United States, there are over 1,600 cemeteries, where individuals will lay wreaths on fallen soldiers grave to honor them.  Our devoted sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers, from all backgrounds of life who placed their life on the line for our freedom will have a wreath laid on their grave.  

“We all know of Veterans Day and Memorial Day, our service members sacrifice their time and safety every single hour of the day, in order to preserve our freedoms.  There truly is no better time than now, to express our appreciation to our fallen heroes, than during the hustle and bustle of all our December activities.  

“I encourage you to take a moment and use Facebook to look up Wreaths Across America.  Look at the pictures and the video’s of just this week alone.  From Maine to Pennsylvania, to the trek to Arlington, you will see interstates, highways, and city streets lined with people waving at the arrival of the semi-trucks with loads of wreaths.  Many stops are being made this week to school districts with auditoriums packed of students, teachers and military veterans all awaiting for the arrival of wreaths.  

“This service project is a huge national volunteer event.  The truck drivers volunteering their rigs, their time, the volunteers who decorated the wreaths in Maine, the volunteers who loaded up pallets of wreaths, everyone who volunteered selling them over several months, to the people and organizations in our community who purchased over 1,000 of them, everyone is playing a part in this community service project.  It is simple – it is a program bringing us together and asking you to – Remember, Honor and Teach.”

(Thank you to all who have worked so hard in bringing this great event to Clarion and to those of you who will come out on Saturday, to take part in honoring our Veterans!!!!)