In December 2017, urged by veterans on the Deer Park Methodist Cemetery Board of Trustees, Board President Mel Blizzard coordinated the laying of more than 100 wreaths on the graves of veterans buried there in Smallwood.
In 2018, that time is noon, and the day is Saturday, Dec. 15. This year, Deer Park Methodist Cemetery is not alone.
Seven additional cemeteries have agreed to participate — Meadow Branch Cemetery in Westminster, Saint Luke’s Cemetery, Saint Paul’s Lutheran Cemetery, in Union Bridge, Uniontown Church of God Cemetery, in Uniontown, Pipe Creek Church of the Brethren Cemetery, in Union Bridge, Mount Joy Cemetery, in Westminster and Saint James Cemetery, formerly known as Strawbridge, in New Windsor — having been organized by the Babylon Vault Company.
“We are very excited we were able to get every veteran sponsored at seven locations for the first time. That’s over 850,” said Babylon Vault Company Community Relations Manager Tammy Ray. “We are still looking for people who are looking to participate.”
In solidarity with 1,300 cemeteries across the nation, Deer Park Methodist Cemetery in Smallwood participated in the national Wreaths Across America program Saturday. They are first group in Carroll County to participate, honoring 140 veterans’ graves with donated evergreen wreaths.
The Times recently caught up with Blizzard to learn more about his bringing Wreaths Across America to Carroll County and the expansion of ceremonies beyond Deer Park Cemetery.
Q: What is Wreaths Across America, and can you tell us how it first came to Deer Park Cemetery and Carroll County?
A: Wreaths Across America was started maybe 15, 20 years ago by a gentleman up in Maine who wanted to do something for the veterans, to remember them. He got enough [wreaths] to do some of the veterans and he went down and put them on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery and the concept of it just took off: Wreaths Across America is up to approximately 1,500 cemeteries throughout the entire country, including Arlington National, that do this every year on the same day, at the same time. This year it happens to be Dec. 15 at 12 noon.
As far as Deer Park is concerned, back in 2017, I guess it was at our May meeting, we have some veterans on our board of trustees and it was brought up that I should research and see if we could become a part of that program. I did the research, filed an application with them and received the approval to go in and become part of Wreaths Across America. It was Dec. 16, 2017 that we held our first ceremony.
Q: How did the first event go? How many wreaths did you lay?
A: We laid approximately 140 wreaths. How the program goes, it’s broken into three parts.
The first thing is we open the ceremony up, then I get the color guard to set up and do their thing and then I’ll call seven veterans up. We’ll do ceremonial wreaths for each of the armed forces. Then I go through a formal program talking about Wreaths Across America and then I go into the three public speakers. Last year I had Haven Shoemaker, Commissioner Weaver and Pastor John Dean from Deer Park Methodist Church.
I will first call up anybody that has purchased or sponsored a wreath to go up, grab their wreath if they bought it for a specific person that they want to lay the wreath at their grave. So they get called first. Then I call any of the scouts or baseball teams. I found out that the kids love to do this. They just love to take that on as a civic duty, so I will make sure all the younger folks get the first shot at laying a wreath. Then additionally, I will call up all the remaining adults to do the remaining wreaths. Then at the end, I will have the “Taps” player play the “Taps” and we close it out.
A: I had so many praises from so many people either via email or in person thanking me. I did have a couple letters come in. People just said that was a wonderful thing we were doing at Deer Park. We have 149 veterans that are buried there.
Another person, a friend of the family came to me, her husband passed away, and she said, you know, “I can’t do it at the cemetery that my husband is at and I would love to honor him.”
I told her, “look, you can honor him at Deer Park. We will set you up a stand for a wreath and honor his memory in the service there.” So this year we have 150 veteran wreaths that we’re doing and the seven, making a total of 157 this year.
Q: What do people need to know about this event? How can they get involved, either donating a wreath or coming out the day of the event?
A: Everything is weather depending, we will do it rain or shine. Last year it was windy, it snowed that morning. But I had — they estimated 200, 250 people in attendance last year. This year, from the calls and emails I’ve been getting, I’m anticipating quite a few more people coming.
I am always willing to have people come and attend and be a part of it. People can still sponsor wreaths because any wreath overage that is sponsored will automatically go into next year’s count. I think each year, it’s going to keep growing and growing. We all want to support our veterans.