In North Adams, honoring veterans one wreath at a time
NORTH ADAMS — Army veteran Robert DeRose loved spending Christmas with his family.
On Saturday, his granddaughter and great-granddaughter visited his burial site at Southview Cemetery, placed a wreath on his grave and thanked him for his service.
"We were so close," said DeRose's granddaughter, Candice Larko, speaking through tears.
"He'd raid the cookies," her 11-year-old daughter, Sariah, recalled.
DeRose was one of more than 3,400 veterans buried at Southview Cemetery who were honored on Wreaths Across America Day. More than 150 volunteers signed up to place the greenery at the graves.
Each December, groups in nearly 1,700 locations across the country carry out the Wreaths Across America mission to "remember, honor and teach" by having coordinated ceremonies on the same day as the founding event at Arlington National Cemetery. Saturday was the second such event held in North Adams.
At a ceremony at the North Adams American Legion on Saturday, Amy Christian talked about the importance of honoring American veterans.
"The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price. Lying here before us and in cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can have freedom without fear," she said.
"We can worship as we see fit. We can raise our children to believe as we do. We can travel from one end of this great nation to the other and not have to ask permission to go."
Vermont Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Luis Beveraggi, of North Adams, spoke about his time serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year marked his 20th year in the military.
"Back in May, I took that reflectiveness and, what we call in the army, took a knee and faced out and drank water, so to speak," he said. "It dawned on me, when I first entered the service — this was before 9/11 hit — I was following something of a time-honored tradition that my uncles have done, Vietnam veterans, and then also my grandfather was a Korean War veteran."
Wreaths Across America, he said, is about teaching the younger generations to remember the "foundation" of the military community in order to make it stronger.
After the ceremony, which was held indoors to avoid rain, volunteers gathered in groups at the cemetery. Men and women unloaded wreaths from large cardboard boxes.
"We're up about 200 wreaths," organizer Donna Engel said, comparing Saturday to last year's event. "That's a combination of us finding more people and a few veterans dying."
Larko's group had more that 600 graves to cover and veterans to thank.
DeRose, who died in 2016, fought in Korea, according to Larko.
"That's where he met my grandmother," she said. "Family was so important to him."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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