Wreaths Across America gives Pennsylvania Legion post a chance to remember, honor & teach

Twenty-year-old Max Cavada, a Penn State University sophomore, is home for the holidays in Mechanicsburg, Pa. And on Dec. 16, he was at Mechanicsburg Cemetery, where he and dozens of other community members placed wreaths on the graves of veterans as a part of Wreaths Across America (WAA) Day.

Cavada’s reason for coming out to the event was two-fold – one of which is because he’s seen firsthand what World War I Memorial Post 109, which sponsored the WAA event, has done in its community.

“I came out here today to support the veterans, obviously, but also my local Legion post in my town,” Cavada said. “I played for the Legion Baseball team – my dad’s the coach – so we have a lot of help from them. I just wanted to come out and show support for them, and, obviously, for the veterans who fought for our country and allowed us all these great freedoms that we have.”

For Cavada, placing the wreaths was a chance to “to say, ‘thank you’. It’s a sign of respect. It definitely takes a lot of courage (to serve), and it’s a big task, and it’s something I’m definitely grateful for. I just want to thank them for that and just ask that God let them rest in peace.”

Post 109’s WAA sponsorship meant more than 930 wreaths were placed at three area cemeteries: Mechanicsburg Cemetery, Chestnut Hill Cemetery and Lincoln Cemetery – the latter of which included Black soldiers who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Post 109 had previously raised tens of thousands of dollars to place wreaths at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, which is located just over 30 miles from Mechanicsburg, when the post learned the cemetery was having trouble getting enough wreaths to cover all the gravesites.

But a few years ago, the post decided to focus its energies locally for WAA, taking over responsibility for Mechanicsburg Cemetery. “And then we found out that nobody was doing Chestnut Hill a couple years ago, so we incorporated that with our Sons of The American Legion,” said Past Post 109 Commander Jim Comrey, who coordinated the event. “And then right down the road is Lincoln Cemetery, which is where Black veterans are buried. We picked that up.”

Post 109 Commander Rick Flinn said moving Wreaths Across America into Mechanicsburg was a chance to localize the event.

“We realized that we serve the community. It’s one of the pillars of The American Legion, obviously,” Flinn said. “And so, we decided to go ahead and have the emphasis here in Mechanicsburg. We decided to focus on our veterans here in this community.”

Post 109’s WAA event included participation from the Mechanicsburg Fire Department, the Cumberland Valley High School Key Club, the Trinity High School Patriots’ Club, local Scouting participants and other members of the community.

“The idea is to remember, to honor, to teach,” Flinn said. “The idea is to get the young folks to understand the value of the veterans who have given their lives to the nation. And the service that they’re offering. The idea is to get the community involved. It’s not decorating the grave. It’s actually remembering.”

Comrey said sponsoring a Wreaths Across America event has multiple purposes. “In my opinion, it’s to honor our veterans from the past,” he said. “And it’s to tell the community, ‘Hey, The American Legion is here. We’re trying to teach the next generation why you have the choices you have. That’s one of the Four Pillars of The American Legion: Children & Youth. Let them learn.”

For Flinn, said taking on a project like Wreaths Across America is why he’s continued to serve after a 38-year career in the military that saw him retire as a Pennsylvania Army National Guard colonel. “I served in the military 38 years,” he said. “When I retired … I said, ‘I’m going to go ahead and take my retirement and try to serve veterans. That’s why I joined the Legion. The whole point is that we serve veterans and their families in the community, and I’m excited about doing that sort of thing. And this is just an example: That our post could not only serve veterans, past veterans, but serve the community and get the community involved.”