By Ann Marie Barron
No deceased veteran from Washington Township will be forgotten this holiday season, thanks to a military-minded Long Valley Girl Scout with plans to decorate each and every one of their graves with a remembrance wreath.
“They’ve done so much for our country,’’ said Sarah Guida, 17, of Girl Scout Troop 81122, who will not only place wreaths on the graves of 242 veterans in five Washington Township cemeteries on Dec. 17, but will take note of their names and their sacrifice.
“They’re the ones who really make this country work and I feel that we should respect them and honor them, even after their deaths,’’ she said.
Guida, who has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten, got the idea for her Gold Award project during a stroll through the veterans’ memorial section of a cemetery with her 89-year-old grandfather, Gordon Bibby, of Michigan, months ago. The World War II Navy veteran began weeping and told her he’d never want to be forgotten.
The moment made her realize how important it is to remember those who are gone and be especially grateful to those who’ve fought for the country, she said. Soon after, she came across information about Wreaths Across America, https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org, a national organization that holds an annual convoy from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery, educating people and coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies along the way.
Guida decided to join in and planned her project to support its mission. The project, which also includes and educational component, will earn Guida the Gold Award, Girl Scouting’s highest award.
Wreaths Across America began 23 years ago with 5,000 wreaths and now has placed close to 900,000 across the country in more than 1,000 locations, said Guida, a junior at West Morris Central High School. Long Valley will be the group’s 1,003 location, she said.
“Long Valley has a veteran from every conflict in American war history,’’ Guida said.
She began working with the American Veterans Association of Washington Township to research the cemeteries, looking for veterans’ graves.
“Time and weather had worn off the letters on the headstones, so we can’t read them all,’’ she said.
Of the graves she’ll be honoring, four belong to Revolutionary War veterans and 13 belong to recipients of the Bronze Star, Silver Star or Purple Heart award, she said.
Her project, which requires a minimum of 80 volunteer hours, also included an educational component. On Veteran’s Day, Guida hosted two workshops for nearly 40 children in grades one through six, in which she taught them about American history and veterans’ history. The children made cards for veterans, and learned how to properly fold the American flag and treat it with respect.
“I loved it,’’ Guida said of the experience working with children and some of her troop members in the sessions. “The kids were very interested and many of them wanted to share their own stories, about the fathers or grandfathers,’’ she said. “It was great to see that enthusiasm.’’
The project will come to fruition on Dec. 17, beginning at an 11:30 a.m. public ceremony at the Washington Township Senior Center on Rock Road. Ceremonial wreaths will be presented to representatives from the five branches of the military, the U.S. Merchant Marines and a representative of POW-MIAs.
Martin Fleisher, commander of the American Veterans Association of Washington Township, will be on hand for the ceremony, and members of his group will address the crowd. Several will disperse with other volunteers to help Guida in the wreath-laying activities. Anyone interested in assisting that day is invited to show up at the ceremony, Guida said.
“It’s a wonderful idea,’’ said Fleisher, a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army Air Corps. “Any time they honor a veteran in any way they can, it is very well appreciated by the veterans themselves. It does wake up the general public to the service of the veterans and it feels very good.’’
The group will visit Our Lady of the Mountain Cemetery, Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Middle Valley Cemetery, Old Stone Union Cemetery and the German Valley Rural Community Cemetery.
Guida isn’t yet sure of her post-high school plans, but is certain the military will be part of them.
“I’ve been inspired by a long line of military in my family,’’ Guida said. “The military gives me a chance to have purpose in everything I do. Every part of my job will be for my country.’’