By Richard Rhinehart
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 24, 2014 – This December 5-6, the annual National Wreath Project will bring together more than 800 volunteers who will place 9,000 commemorative holiday wreaths on the gravestones of veterans at Gettysburg and Quantico National Cemeteries. Assisting in the coordination of the event is United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Stan Clark, who also directs the Gettysburg conclusion of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ annual Face of America bicycle and hand cycle ride each April.
“It is both encouraging and exciting to me that so many people see the National Wreath Project as a way for everyday Americans to show their support and reverence for our deceased veterans,” said Clark. “We have people from all walks of life, diverse employment and business backgrounds, all ages from 7 – 90 years old, all political and cultural persuasions and they all come together for the common cause of paying tribute. I cannot think of anything as unifying and uniting as this Project and how it brings everyone together.”
Through generous donations from sponsors including Giant Food Stores, ABF Freight Systems and the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, along with support from individual donors, fraternal and veterans organizations from throughout the region, the National Wreath Project continues to grow each year, supplying wreaths to honor additional gravestones.
“As with most projects of this type, the growth and actual existence of our program depends on the generosity and number of financial supporters,” said Clark. “All work is performed by volunteers and there are no salaries paid to anyone.”
Managed by the non-profit Sgt Mac Foundation, the National Wreath Project recognizes the contributions and sacrifice of veterans like Marine Sgt. Eric McColley, a 23-year-old Gettysburg High School graduate who lost his life in a 2006 collision of two Marine helicopters. “To accomplish this project, we need to raise approximately $64,000,” said Clark.
“We are always looking for individual donations as well as sponsorships by individuals, businesses and organizations” to support Project expenses. “We also rely on volunteers to help assemble the wreaths on the first Friday in December each year and to place them on the graves. We rely heavily on volunteers not only for financial and logistical support, but also to help spread the word about the Project and encourage others to get involved both logistically and financially.” With volunteers returning from previous years, the Project is gaining additional recognition through regional media. “I get calls throughout the year from volunteers that have participated in the past and they plan to come again this year and want to save the date.”
Once the wreaths are placed, Clark turns his attention to the Face of America ride, ending in Gettysburg on April 26. “I am inspired each year by the overwhelmingly positive attitudes displayed by the participants. When I see how some have overcome their personal challenges, it just fortifies my admiration and respect for them. They are really spectacular examples of the courage and determination of our American service members and veterans.”
Introduced to the Face of America by the late Corporal James “Seamus” Garrahy, who hosted the ride at his Gettysburg farm for several years, Clark has mixed feelings about the 2014 move to the All Star Sports Complex on the south side of Gettysburg for the ride’s finish.
“His home and the first eight years of the ride were one of the highlights of both of our lives,” said Clark of the ride’s finish at Seamus’ farm. “Every year we would start planning and organizing in January for the April event. All of my times with Seamus were fun but this was always one of the best. With his declining health, he became more and more concerned about being able to continue on. He relied on me a little more each year to bring things together for a successful event for our wounded warriors and World T.E.A.M. Sports. He knew that I would do whatever was necessary to keep the ‘spirit alive.’”
Clark, like Garrahy before him, reaches out to the people of Gettysburg to support the ride and welcome the 600 riders to Pennsylvania. “There are many individuals who bake cookies and other desserts and bring them to the finish line festivities to show their support. Our local elected officials – U. S. Congressman, State Senator and Representatives, County Commissioners and others – have turned out each year. We have local volunteers that assist in all the other phases of the finish line event, including the Gettysburg Fire Department, the Adams County Sheriff’s Department, the Cumberland Township Police Department, the Gettysburg High School JROTC cadets, the Young Marine organization as well as other groups and individuals. They all turn out in support of this event.”
Noting he is proud to work with World T.E.A.M. Sports in creating an inspirational finish to the Face of America, Clark is pleased to be a member of a team honoring our nation’s injured military veterans. “Everyone involved – the riders, the volunteers, the staff, and the spectators – truly exemplify the slogan ‘we all ride the same road together.’”