Pencader wreath ceremony honors military veterans
A group of Newarkers paused Saturday to remember the sacrifice of local veterans with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pencader Heritage Museum.
Veterans and other community members laid wreaths honoring the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, POW/MIA and the Revolutionary War soldiers who died at the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge.
The event at Pencader was one of more than 1,400 similar ceremonies happening across the country and at U.S. military cemeteries abroad as part of Wreaths Across America.
The project began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, had a surplus of wreaths and arranged to have them laid on graves at Arlington National Cemeter y. The tradition continued largely unnoticed until 2005, when a photo of the wreaths went viral online.
The attention led to an influx of funds and volunteers, and the project expanded. Today, the project distributes more than 1.5 million wreaths.
“The freedoms we enjoy today have not come without a price,” Col. Mike Wilgen said at the Pencader ceremony. “In the cemeteries throughout this nation are men and women who gave their lives so that we can live in freedom and without fear.”
Pencader began participating in Wreaths Across America several years ago to honor the approximately two dozen American soldiers who died at Cooch’s Bridge, the site of Delaware’s only Revolutionary War battle. The museum is located on part of the Cooch’s Bridge Battlefield.
The fallen soldiers are believed to be buried somewhere on the battlefield site. The exact location is unknown, but under a new preservation agreement, the state is planning archeological exploration in attempt to find their graves.
Bill Conley, who coordinated Saturday’s event, noted that journals from Revolutionary War veterans indicate that five of the soldiers died at the foot of Cooch’s Bridge.
“Any time you go over that bridge, just stop and think that right there in that vicinity, five American colonial soldiers paid the ultimate price as they tried to stop a professional army of Hessians and British soldiers marching on their way to Philadelphia,” Conley said.
Saturday’s event also featured an appearance by Ray Firmani, a 97-year-old World War II veteran from Elsmere. Wilmington author Mitchell Topal recently published a book, “Against All Odds: The Ray Firmani Story,” about Firmani’s experience in the war and the 25 B-17 bombing missions he flew.
Firmani spoke about the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge and signed copies of the book.
Gen. Terry Wiley prepares to lay a wreath during the Wreaths Across America ceremony at the Pencader Heritage Museum on Saturday.