Volunteers honor Berks veterans with Wreaths Across America

Dec. 17 – Asher Fogelman holds a wreath in his hand as he climbs the steps to the Veterans Memorial at Forest Hills Memorial Park on Saturday. He slowly hung a wreath on the memorial, stood in silence for a moment, and then bowed to the memory of his fellow Marine.

Private First Class is new to the fraternity, having completed his Marine Corps training a few weeks ago. But when organizers of the Wraiths Across America program approached him at an Exeter Township cemetery to hang a wreath in honor of veterans who served in his branch of the armed forces, he was touched.

“It’s a great way to remember the sacrifices of others during the holidays,” Fogelman said.

Fogelman, who graduated from Schuylkill Valley High School in June, has been a member of the Boy Scouts for the past several years participating in the annual wreath-laying program. However, this was the first time he was a member of a group who wanted to commemorate the day.

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Every December throughout America Day, volunteers lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery and simultaneously at more than 3,400 other cemeteries across the country to remember and honor the lives of deceased veterans.

While Veterans Day and Memorial Day are designated times to remember and honor the sacrifices of those who have served their country, organization officials say there is no better time to express appreciation than during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Forest Hills is one of four cemeteries in Berks to host a wreath-laying ceremony on Saturday. It is joined by Fairview Cemetery in Boyertown and Eppler’s Cemetery and Bern Cemetery in Bern Township.

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Christine Staub, coordinator of the Forest Hills event, said she initially got involved with Wreaths Across America about 15 years ago when she volunteered to lay wreaths at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. And then a few years ago he asked about an opportunity to help grow the initiative at the local level.

‘We have been conducting the ceremony here for the last five years,’ he said. “The first year there was a small group of volunteers who placed about 30 wreaths on the graves of veterans buried here. And every year since then we’ve seen it grow bigger and bigger.”

About 100 volunteers showed up to the cemetery Saturday to place about 1,320 wreaths, Staub said. While that’s still not enough to ensure the headstones of the more than 6,000 veterans buried there are covered, they believe they’ll reach that milestone one day.

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“We have a number of volunteers who have contributed to make this a success,” he said. “It’s a holiday tradition for many families.”

The Firillas family is one such family.

Marina Firillas became involved with wreaths across America through her membership in American Heritage Girls. The nine-year-old raised money from family and friends to buy wreaths to place on veterans’ graves, which she helped install with the help of her mother. She carefully handled the wreaths, placed them on the gravestones, recited each veteran’s name, and paused for a moment of silence before moving on to the next grave she came across.

“I think it’s the most honest thing to do,” he said.


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