xml:space="preserve">

Pouring rain and cold winds couldn’t stop the crowds from turning out. Across Carroll County, 17 cemeteries saw a sea of umbrellas as residents stopped to honor those whose service has kept our nation free. The program, Wreaths Across America, aims to thank each and every veteran who has fought to preserve our rights.

Across the nation, over a quarter-million wreaths were laid at exactly the same time, noon on Saturday. This effort was brought to Carroll County by Mel Blizzard three years ago for the Deer Park United Methodist Church cemetery in Smallwood. Last year, he worked with the Community Foundation of Carroll County to bring it to the Ellsworth Cemetery in Westminster, too — a cemetery established in 1876 by six African American Army veterans and the final resting place for 26 veterans.

Advertisement

When Donna Babylon of Babylon Vault Company heard about the program, she wanted to help. This year, through her work and sponsorship, 15 more cemeteries were added, bringing the total to 17 in Carroll County.

“We’ve been in the community 90 years now, a family-owned business,” Babylon said. “I wanted to do something that we could embrace as a company.”

The tradition, which began at Arlington National Cemetery, spread when Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Maine, founded Wreaths Across America in 2007. The program has one mission: to remember, honor and teach. Wreaths are sponsored by individuals at a cost of $15 each and then shipped to participating cemeteries. This year, wreathes came in on Thursday, freshly made and straight from Maine, delivered by volunteers whose companies also volunteered the trucks.

“Our wreaths came this year in a Frito Lay truck,” said Babylon. “The driver was a vet himself, and this was the first year they participated. They plan to wrap their trucks next year.”

Blizzard said wreaths for Deer Park UMC and Ellsworth Cemetery also came Thursday, via volunteers from Estes Trucking company.

Ducking under a tent, Gary Saylor, a veteran, waited in the pouring rain at Deer Park United Methodist Church. Saylor served in the Army in Vietnam. He pointed to the waving flag backdrop in the ceremonial tent.

“Babylon Vault Company made that for us,” he said with a smile. When asked why he’d decided to come, he said he wouldn’t miss it.

“My cousins and uncles who served in World War I and World War II are buried in the cemetery, and my grandparents, too. They sacrificed so much for us,” he said.

Veteran Grace Liebno was helping out at the refreshment tent. She joined the Roaring Run Lions Club and Deer Park Lions Club in offering hot chocolate, Christmas cookies, brownies and other goodies to the crowd.

“My husband [Dick Liebno] and I are both veterans,” she said. “This is a terrific event. It makes me proud to have served.”

At noon, Blizzard greeted the crowd, and all stood for the national anthem, sung by Keenan Hudson. The color guard presented the colors, and then veteran volunteers came forward to place eight wreaths on the wrought-iron fence at the cemetery’s edge. These wreaths represented the seven branches of service, plus one POW/MIA wreath for prisoners of war and missing in action.

Speakers Del. Haven Shoemaker, Commissioner Richard Weaver, Sheriff Jim DeWees and Deer Park UMC’s the Rev. John Dean shared messages with the crowd.

“Carroll is a patriotic county,” Shoemaker said.

Commissioner Weaver agreed.

Advertisement

“If only this cemetery could talk,” Weaver said. “I can imagine the stories, some good, some bad, and many about the fight to preserve our freedoms. If they could write a book, I am sure it would be a best seller for years to come.”

DeWees reflected on his father’s service in Vietnam and how that generation came home to an ungrateful nation.

“There was a time in our nation’s history when military soldiers were not treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “As you lay wreaths on the headstones of our departed veterans, take a moment to reflect on what it may have been like for these veterans upon their return home and the struggles they endured throughout their lives. I believe if my father, grandfather and great-uncle were here today they would be awestruck and eternally grateful at how this community and many others have taken the time to recognize and remember the sacrifices these men and women have made.”

The crowd listened intensely.

“Make no mistake,” DeWees said. “Our country isn’t the greatest nation on this planet by accident or happenstance. It is because of my father, my grandfathers, great-uncle; the men and women that rest in this cemetery and cemeteries throughout the world; and the men and women that currently serve our country.”

Families and friends moved forward to collect the wreaths they were sponsoring. Quietly, they moved through the cemetery to find their loved ones and place wreaths on their graves.

Heather Ruby walked with her daughter, Arabella Ruby, toward the grave of her father, John Raymond Mathias.

“He served in the Air Force through 1998,” Ruby said. “I’ve brought my daughter every year to honor him … and all who served. It’s important that we remember, honor and teach our children the same.”

Babylon agreed. She said her dad was a vet who is buried at Pipe Creek cemetery.

“His brother was killed in the war,” she said. “Freedom back then was not assumed, like it is today. He lost friends. He lost his brother. My father taught us to stand for the national anthem and to put our hand across our heart and to sing it. It meant something. This company was founded by [him] and his father 90 years ago, so I am doing it for him.”

See photos of wreaths being delivered and from various ceremonies on the Babylon Vault Company Facebook page.

For more information on Wreaths Across America, visit them online at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Lois Szymanski has been a correspondent for the Carroll County Times for over 25 years. She is the author of 29 books for children, including novels and picture books. She lives in Westminster with her husband and their two miniature horses, Georgie McLittle and Princess Hazel.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement