Approximately 800 school children waving American flags greeted the Wreaths Across America convoy at their school on Wednesday in Middletown, N.J., for a wreath laying ceremony and tribute honoring World War II veterans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
The WAA caravan included over 10 trailer trucks filled with wreaths. The group is laying wreaths to honor and remember the country’s veterans during its weeklong journey, which began in Maine on Dec. 7.
Its final stop will be at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 14, where at least 100,000 wreaths will be laid on the graves of veterans.
The Maine and New Jersey State Police, the Patriot Guard Riders, and the American Gold Star Families led the entourage. Maine’s First Lady Ann LePage, traveling by motorcycle, was also part of the convoy.
The Maine-based Worcester Wreath Company started the WAA initiative, which has grown since its start in 1992.
Thirteen World War II veterans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge were present for the ceremony: Joseph Scott, Bernard Tillis, Thomas Scriffignano, Theodore Roesch, William O’Brien, Charles Nelson, George Ellis, Ralph Dinin, Pasquale Casanova, George Blum, Alfred Balestracci, Joseph Adubato, and William Lang, this reporter’s father.
A wreath was laid outside at Thorne Middle School’s Battle of the Bulge memorial under sunny skies and frigid temperatures.
One veteran commented on the cold temperature, saying if he were back in Belgium he would have dug a foxhole.
Inside, the students read stories of what the veterans endured, including their absence from their families in December of 1944, when the German offensive began. The school’s program for the ceremony read, “The Christmas They Never Had.”
The choir then sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Students also sang “Silent Night,” and several veterans joined the students in singing “God Bless America.”
LePage spoke briefly. She said “our fallen heroes” were not Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. “They were not from Blue States or Red States. They were from the United States of America,” LePage said.
This is LePage’s third year with the Wreaths Across America convoy.
“Wreaths Across America’s mission is to remember, honor, and teach. That fits right in with what we do at Thorne,” principal Tom Olausen told the Washington Free Beacon. “To have them here is a great honor.”
Thorne Middle School became the newest home to the Battle of the Bulge memorial, which was dedicated there after the nearby Fort Monmouth Army base was decommissioned. The school’s namesake is Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Corporal Horace Thorne, who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.
Thorne’s two sisters were at the ceremony. One sister, Edith Nowels, is the editor of the Ardennes Voice and a strong advocate for veterans. She sits on the board of the organization and was instrumental in bringing WAA to Thorne.
“Thorne Middle School has a unique history,” said Olausen. “We use that as part of our character education for our students. The students are very much aware of the history and legacy of Corporal Thorne, so any chance we have to honor veterans is right up our alley.”
The veterans who fought in that major offensive launched by the Germans in 1944 told the Free Beacon they are not the ones who should be honored.
Thomas Scriffignano, 91, said the event was not to honor him, but to honor those who did not return. “I’m not a hero,” he said. “The heroes are the ones who didn’t come back.”
Charles Nelson, 88, was in awe of the tribute by WAA and the Thorne students. “It is a little overwhelming to see the magnitude of it,” Nelson said. “It stirs up a lot of emotions and memories, some are good and some are very sad.”
“These things make you too emotional,” said Pasquale Casanova, 88, with tears in his eyes. “There’s things we want to forget. I’m 88, and I’ve had a good life. I was 17 when I enlisted.”
George “Red” Ellis, 87, an ex-POW, told the Free Beacon of his two escapes from the Nazis. When asked what happened when he was re-captured after his first escape, Ellis said he was placed in a box car. He and 19 others escaped from the box cars, then marched into a nearby town.
Ellis laughed as he recounted, “In the town, they surrendered to us. They thought we were the advancement of the troops they heard were coming!”
Wreaths Across America is a nonpartisan group. Aside from its wreath laying ceremonies along its route to Arlington, it has coordinated with other organizations and plans to have wreaths laid at locations in all 50 states, 24 national cemeteries on foreign soil, and at ceremonies at sea on Saturday, Dec. 14.