By Katie Engesser
Students from Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn place a symbol of the Christmas season in a solemn place.
“For what they’ve done for us, they deserve to be honored,” said Sean Powers, a 7th grader at the academy.
Unlike many visitors to Cypress Hills Cemetery, these girls and boys aren’t remembering relatives. In fact, they don’t know those buried there. What they do know is that in these graves lie America’s heroes.
“They risked their lives to give us freedom,” said Joseph Chelales, another 7th grader at the school.
The students are taking part in ‘Wreaths Across America,’ which shows respect to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Maybe their family can’t visit them so it would be right for us to visit them if they don’t have people to visit them,” Joseph explained.
The thousands of soldiers laid to rest in the Brooklyn cemetery are from the branches of the U.S. military. Some date back to the Civil War. The many graves are adorned with wreaths.
Major Jose Martinez from the Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Airforce Auxiliary explained “It’s not for the glory, it’s not for the notoriety. It’s a chance for us to give back. They gave to us, let’s give back to them.”
The students helped to place around 2,000 wreaths around Cyprus Hills Cemetery but honoring the veterans has become a school-wide project. For those who couldn’t attend the service, they donated money to help pay for the wreaths.
Michael Long, Chairman of the Board at Holy Angels, said “I think it’s a huge sign of respect to put a wreath on a military grave.”
Long introduced the program at the school last year. He wanted the students to take part so they would better understand the sacrifices of veterans.
“It’s very important,” Long explained, “because one of the reasons we’re able to celebrate Christmas, one of the reasons we’re able to sit down with our families and go to church and say our prayers is because people fought and died to keep us free.”
‘Wreaths Across America’ is honoring veterans in about 1,400 locations in all 50 states this Christmas with a mission to remember the fallen, honor those who serve, and teach the next generation the cost of freedom. Certainly for the kids from Holy Angels, many of whom told me their parents and grandparents are veterans, this is a lesson they are learning well.
“I would like to have other people celebrating them and put wreaths on their graves,” said 5th grader, Caroline Chelales.