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On Saturday, Dec. 14, which is Wreaths Across America Day, Mark Hally will head up an effort to place wreaths on graves of Branford’s veterans. The 15-year-old Branford resident is organizing the mammoth effort as his Eagle Scout project. (Photo by Bill O’Brien )
Working with Wreaths Across America, Mark Hally’s Eagle Scout project seeks to place wreaths on veterans’ graves across Branford on Saturday, Dec. 14. )
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When a segment of the impressive Wreaths Across American (WAA) convoy stopped for a local ceremony honoring deceased veterans at Branford Fire House last December, part of the inspiring message shared that day was not lost on Mark Hally.
“They explained how they wanted every veteran’s grave, in every cemetery, to have a wreath like the ones they were delivering to Arlington,” says Mark.
National WAA Day is observed on a Saturday in mid-December each year by placing wreaths on veterans’ graves not only in Arlington National Cemetery, but in cemeteries nationwide. In both 2017 and 2018, Branford was the welcome stop for the Maine-to-Virginia convoy, en route to Arlington.
Non-profit WAA was established in 2007 by Morril Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreaths Company of Harrington, Maine. Each year, WAA uses the power of its convoy to help citizens remember America’s fallen heroes, honor those who serve, and teach youth about the sacrifices of veterans and their families to preserve freedom. The Branford visits were coordinated by Branford military veterans Lt. Commander Dottie Packer (N.C. USN, Retired) and Pamela Bold (Health Services Chief, USCG, Retired). Packer and Bold travel annually with the WAA convoy, which is expected to stop in Old Saybrook this year as its closest point to Branford.
Now, thanks to Mark, Branford will still play a part in the 2019 WAA mission. On Dec. 14, which is 2019 WAA Day, Mark will head up an effort to place what he hopes will be at least 500 wreaths on graves of Branford’s veterans, and he hopes he will be able to place many, many more.
Mark, who is 15, is organizing the mammoth effort as his project to earn scouting’s highest honor, Eagle Scout.
“I think an Eagle Scout project should be something where you hear the name of a scout and the Eagle project, and you think, ‘I know exactly what that was, I helped with that, it was meaningful.’ And I thought about Wreaths Across America when I saw them, and I thought, ‘I want to do that.’”
In September, Mark traveled to WAA’s headquarters in Maine where he visited its museum, viewed the tipping fields (where sustainable clipping of evergreen trees for wreaths takes place), and even made a wreath.
In addition to scouting, Mark is also a member of Branford Fire Department’s Explorers youth volunteer program, Menunkatuck Audubon Society in Guilford (for which he has been building osprey nests for six years), and as an altar server with St. John Bosco Parish of Branford. He’s also looking forward to volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in January 2020.
But right now, Mark is fully concentrating on his Eagle Scout project, which officially received council approval to get underway on Oct. 16. While that may mean Mark is working with a tight timeline until Saturday, Dec. 14 rolls around, he has certainly hit the ground running. Mark’s already raised $5,000 of his hoped-for $20,000 goal. That’s enough to place wreaths on all of the veterans’ graves at Stony Creek Cemetery (150), Tabor Lutheran Cemetery (125), St. Mary Cemetery (15), Damascus Road Cemetery (15), Mill Plain Cemetery (5), and more. Mark also hopes to be able to place as many wreaths as possible at Center Cemetery (400) and St. Agnes Cemetery (1,400).
Mark says if he falls short of the total funding needed this year, he will continue to work to raise money and come back next year—and successive years, if needed. He wants to make sure that, at least once, every veteran’s grave in Branford will have been decorated with a wreath on national WAA Day.
“Next year, it’s not going to be my Eagle Project, but I’m going to do it next year, so hopefully it’s going to be a tradition where I get every single veteran in Branford before I stop,” he says.
Putting together the program which will bring the wreaths from Maine to Branford has involved plenty of research, organization, and leadership work on Mark’s part. Most recently, he organized and held a Nov. 3 fundraising breakfast at his Branford church hall (St. Therese’s) where he raised $2,000 for the effort. Mark also marched to raise awareness in the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade in Branford (Oct. 13) and the Branford Veterans Day Parade (Nov. 10).
Going forward, he’s relying on donations coming in online and through the mail. Wreaths can be purchased and specified for individual veteran’s graves in any of Branford’s seven cemeteries, but general donations are also welcome. Wreaths are $15 (donations can be made in any amount; sponsorship levels are also available). Donations can be given online at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/CT0101. By mail, checks made payable to “Wreaths Across America” can be mailed to: Mark Hally, 18 Wilford Avenue, Branford, CT 06405.
Mark is also currently organizing (and seeking) manpower to help fan out on Dec. 14 to place the wreaths on Branford veterans’ graves. Members of his scouting troop and representatives from Branford veterans’ and area veterans’ organizations have already signed up to help, but more volunteers are needed. He’s hoping to gather 100 volunteers, who would be laying five wreaths each. Volunteers are also needed to help remove wreaths in January. To volunteer, email email@example.com.
“On Saturday, Dec. 14, [Wreaths Across America] will lay all the wreaths nationwide, and that’s when we’re going to be doing this,” says Mark. “I was in Middletown when they did this last year, and it’s just so impactful. Every veteran’s grave, as far as you could see, was covered by a wreath within 15 minutes,” says Mark. “It’s something you don’t see every day, especially in a small town like Branford.”
Mark is also planning to hold a public ceremony at St. Agnes Cemetery on Saturday, Dec. 14 at noon to mark WAA Day in Branford.
“We’re hoping to have Taps played, and a 21-gun salute and a Blessing of the Wreaths,” says Mark. “We’re going to thank people for coming out and explain why we’re doing this to honor veterans. We’ll have our volunteers meet there, and then disperse to [other] cemeteries.”
Those Dec. 14 volunteers will also be helping to honor each veteran by saying the military member’s name out loud as each wreath is laid, Mark notes.
“What Wreaths Across America says to do, and what I saw in Middletown, is you say the veteran’s name that’s on the gravestone and you lay the wreath. And you also thank them, out loud, for their service. So it’s a very meaningful moment,” he says.
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