"Remember. Honor. Teach."

Veterans Voice: Wreaths Across America Mission is simple. "Remember. Honor. Teach."
Posted on 11/18/2019

The mission of Wreaths Across America is simple. “Remember. Honor. Teach.”

The Foster-Glocester Regional School District embraced the program wholeheartedly 13 years ago. Social studies teacher Michael Calenda wrote a curriculum designed to honor those who serve, past and present, and to help students understand and value their freedom.

One of the highlights of the Wreaths Across America curriculum is learning history through the eyes of veterans who lived it, incorporating eyewitness accounts into the classroom experience. A poignant moment Calenda recalls with pride is a classroom discussion this year about the Battle of Iwo Jima. His guest, Marine Pfc. “Pat” Femino, Ret., stepped forward to offer his experiences, adding that he was standing right there when six Marines raised the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, a moment captured and shared in an iconic photograph by Joe Rosenthal.

“When he said those words, the room went silent,” recalls Calenda. “History came alive for those kids.”

Senior Haeley Arruda concurs: “Being able to meet veterans (and families of veterans) has given me a glimpse of what it’s like to serve and an understanding of the sacrifices they have made.”

Foster and Glocester have a combined population of just under 15,000, yet more than 1,200 people will arrive at the Ponaganset High School field house Dec. 10 at 9 a.m. for a remembrance and wreath-dedication ceremony. Calenda won’t stop there. He’d welcome more veterans and their families to participate. “We have 200 veterans that have confirmed their attendance, but we would be honored to be able to fill the field house with 800 more.”

Four days after the high school ceremony, a tractor-trailer filled with wreaths purchased by individuals from the community will arrive at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter. The senior class, along with scores of other volunteers, will travel there to place the wreaths on 4,000 gravestones. (Although there are 25,000-plus veterans’ graves in Exeter, money has been raised for wreaths for a portion of those sites.)

Across the state, on Aquidneck Island, the Surface Navy Association will gather at noon that same day, Dec. 14, to put donated wreaths on veterans’ markers at the Island Cemetery. According to one local organizer, Navy Lt. Kenneth R. Larson III, 854 veterans are buried at this resting place, including three Medal of Honor recipients and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a hero of the War of 1812.

The Aquidneck Island volunteer contingent includes the American Heritage Girls, Trail Life Boys, the American Legion, VFW, the Rhode Island Patriot Guard Unit and the Artillery Company of Newport, along with the Surface Navy Association which spearheads this effort. As of Nov. 6, the group had reached 35 percent of its wreath sponsorship goal.

When the sun sets on Dec. 14, Wreaths Across America volunteers will have placed more than a million wreaths at 1,600 locations where American veterans are buried across the world. But as Calenda and Larson note, their missions will not be completed until an evergreen wreath is placed on each veteran’s grave in every cemetery in Rhode Island. Both groups would welcome financial and logistical support to help them edge closer to that goal.

If you are a veteran and are interested in participating in the Wreaths Across America event at Ponaganset High School on Dec. 10, contact Calenda: mcalenda@fgschools.com. Read full Providence Journal article here.

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