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Wreaths to be placed on graves of veterans

The Spectator - 12/13/2017

SOMERSET - When their work is done after Saturday, Kathleen Gunning envisions driving down Route 138 and, from the road, seeing many of the 612 wreaths that will have been placed on the graves of veterans at St. Patrick's Cemetery.

"The visual of the wreaths will show the magnitude of the sacrifice," Gunning said.

St. Patrick's Cemetery will be one of five cemeteries in Somerset where a total of 1,143 wreaths will be placed on the graves of veterans Saturday. It will be part of the observance of Wreaths Across America in town that will also include a ceremony in front of the World War II monument at the Somerset Public Library, 1464 County St., starting at noon Saturday, Dec. 16.

The ceremony in Somerset and at locations across the country will start at the same time as the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The public is welcome to attend that ceremony at the Somerset Public Library and is also welcome to come to the cemeteries to volunteer to place wreaths on the graves of veterans.

Gunning said volunteers will start placing wreaths at about 1 p.m. She said there will be stations with wreaths at different sections of the cemeteries where volunteers can pick up wreaths to place on graves. Gunning said people will be asked to take one or two wreaths at a time so that everyone who wants to place a wreath has a chance to do so. She said people can also request to place wreaths on the graves of certain veterans, such as their relatives. People will be asked to say the name of the veteran when they place a wreath on a grave. Gunning said she will also bring wreaths to Somerset Ridge Center, Clifton Nursing Center and the Clifton assisted-living center. She said Somerset Veterans' Agent Heather Cheetham is going to put wreaths at the four veterans' organization posts in town and at war monuments.

After the wreaths have been placed in the cemeteries, refreshments will be served at the Amvets Hall, 659 Brayton Ave., where people will share their feelings about the experiences of the day.

"I think that people who don't know what to expect will be blown away," Gunning said of the Wreaths Across America event.

Gunning said the ceremony will have 10 honor guards who will gather at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post on Washington Avenue and at an 11:45 a.m. march to the library. At the ceremony, there will be a presentation of wreaths for all branches of the military, led by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8500 Commander David Aubry, who was a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. Other representatives for the wreath presentations will be Raymond Patenaude, who was a corporal in the U.S. Army; Walter Wisniewski, who was a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps; Anthony Kucikas, who was in the U.S. Navy; Lt. Colonel Lisa Ahaesy of the U.S. Air Force; Rene Thibault, who was a third-class petty officer in the U.S. Coast Guard; and Michael Quinn and Connor Duffy, of the United States Merchant Marines. The family of major Joseph Gosselin, an Air Force veteran who was a Somerset resident and a prisoner of war in World War II, will be in attendance. The Marine Corps League of Somerset will do a 21-gun salute.

Gunning said the theme of Wreaths Across America this year is "I'm An American, Yes I Am," and that song will be sung by a group of students from Somerset's elementary schools. The schools are involved in the event in a variety of ways and Gunning, a former Somerset School Committee member, said that is a way to teach them about why veterans are honored. The Somerset Berkley Regional High School Marching Band and the Somerset Middle School Chorus will perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the ceremony. Somerset Middle School student Bella Manchester will sing "God Bless America" and SBRHS students Holly Dion and Hannah Driscoll will play taps.

Students and their families who would like to place wreaths on graves after the ceremony have been assigned to different cemeteries. The South School has been asked to go to Gibbs Cemetery, the Chace Street School to Palmer Cemetery, Somerset Middle School to the Nathan Slade Cemetery and the North Elementary School and Somerset Berkley Regional High School to St. Patrick's Cemetery. South Elementary School Principal Daniel Hanneken volunteered to be the liaison between the schools and the Wreaths Across America project in Somerset. He helped to get the music coordinated for the ceremony. Hanneken is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

After the ceremony, which Gunning expects to last about an hour, wreaths will be placed on the graves of veterans at Gibbs, Slade, Palmer, St. Patrick's and Bourne cemeteries. She said she expects about 200 volunteers to help place the wreaths.

"It's just going to be an incredible thing," Gunning said. "I think it's going to bolster what we do next year because people are going to be so moved. I hope they will be moved."

Gunning's son, Andrew, is a second lieutenant in the U.S.Marine Corps Reserves.

Gunning said Waring-Sullivan Funeral Home on County Street has offered the use of its parking lot for an 18-wheeler that will come from Maine to drop off the wreaths. Gunning said the wreaths will be put into smaller trucks to be brought to the different cemeteries.

Gunning had tried to bring Wreaths Across America to Somerset in 2012, but couldn't get the support of enough people. After going to Arlington National Cemetery for the Wreaths Across America event last year, she said she was determined to bring it to her hometown.

"I have been overwhelmed by the support of people," Gunning said.

Gunning and a committee of 15 to 18 people solicited donations for the Wreaths Across America effort in Somerset. Gunning said she could not have led the Wreaths Across America project in Somerset without the help of the committee. There were donations from individuals, businesses and veterans' organizations. The committee organized fundraisers to pay for the wreaths which cost $15 each. Others donated prizes for raffles at those fundraisers and the printing that was needed for the work of the committee. Gunning said the committee had to purchase very little for the fundraisers because of all the donations.

"I am very, very pleased that we'll be able to cover every veteran in those cemeteries," Gunning said. "It's been a lot of work."

While the donations were being solicited, Gunning said she and the members of the committee were educating people about Wreaths Across America and what they wanted to do in Somerset.

Gunning said software is going to be purchased to plot locations of veterans' graves in cemeteries in Somerset.

This is the first year that Somerset will be holding the Wreaths Across America event and Gunning hopes to make it an annual event. She said she hopes surrounding towns will also hold their own Wreaths Across America projects. She said she would share what she has learned with them. Gunning said she knows Middleboro is registered to do a wreaths across America project next year.


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