Rain, snow, wind, and freezing temperatures — the weather has never put a damper on a solemn event that has been taking place at Spring Grove Veterans Cemetery in Darien for the past 12 years.
On the third Saturday in December, a 20-inch balsam wreath gets placed on each of the graves in the veterans section of the cemetery, on 41 Hecker Ave.
This year, the ceremony will be at noon on Dec. 15.
The purpose of the ceremony, which has been designated National Wreaths Across America Day, is to honor all veterans and active military members. It is a movement to cover all veterans grave markers with a Christmas wreath.
Spring Grove is one of three official veterans cemeteries in Connecticut. The other two Connecticut veterans cemeteries are in Rocky Hill and Middletown.
The wreath laying event is conducted through Wreaths Across America (WAA), a national nonprofit organization founded in 2007. WAA coordinates wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,400 locations across the United States.
Hundreds of wreaths are delivered across the country by hundreds of volunteer truck drivers using donated equipment and fuel.
The Darien WAA group is registered with Wreaths Across America at its headquarters in Maine.
Wreaths cost $15 each. The Darien group is raising money in order to purchase the wreaths that are needed to cover all 2,184 graves in the veterans section.
“Our goal every year is to put a wreath on every grave,” said Dave Polett, who along with his wife Karen and former Darien resident Phil Kraft — past commander of Darien Veterans of Foreign Wars — have kept the ceremony going each year.
“As the wreaths are placed, we ask the person placing the wreath to stop for a moment and say the name of the person on the stone,” said Dave, who is chairman of the town’s Monuments & Ceremonies Commission. Karen serves as the Commission’s secretary.
The group is also looking for volunteers. Each year, from 100 to 150 people volunteer at the Darien ceremony by placing the wreaths on the graves.
“We get people of all ages, including many kids and veterans,” Karen said.
Volunteers are asked to show up at 11:30 a.m. on the day of the ceremony.
The ceremony preceding the placement of the wreaths begins with placing seven ceremonial wreaths in front of the memorial statue at the cemetery.
Each of these wreaths bears a U.S. flag and a branch of service flag, instead of a red bow.
The branch of service flags represent the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, and POW-MIA (Prisoners of War-Missing in Action).
This year has been the Darien group’s “best” fund-raising year to date, Dave said.
“We expect to have raised enough money to purchase 1,200 to 1,300 wreaths — at the least — when all is totaled,” he added.
Over the past two years, the Darien group has had an angel in its midst who has helped it achieve its goal.
“We have been surprised by an anonymous donor who made up the difference between what we raised and what was necessary to supply all 2,184 wreaths we needed to cover every grave,” Dave said. “We appreciate this, but realize we cannot expect that this will always happen.”
Many local groups including DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution, the Good Wife’s River Chapter), Darien VFW Post #6933, and the local Masonic Club of Darien, have either donated their time, funds or both this year to Darien WAA.
In addition, the Darien group has fund-raised at several local businesses.
“This a true community activity where many come together to help out a worthy cause,” Dave said.
Both the Poletts have family members who served in the military.
Dave organizes the veterans ceremony each year because of “a feeling that we should be dedicated to these veterans and what they’ve done for us. It’s a tribute to them.”
“We feel those who have served have given so much to this country that we should give something back,” Karen said. “I honor what the veterans have done throughout our history — back to the Revolutionary War where my family members fought.”
She added, “the beauty of it is that when we place these wreaths, children, the elderly and everybody in between, and vets and no vets — everybody is on an even playing field that day. We all want to honor these people who have gone before us.”
To volunteer at the Darien Wreaths Across America ceremony, come to the cemetery at 11:30 a.m. on Dec. 15.
Wreaths can be ordered directly from Wreaths Across America with the group code of CT0007 and the location code of CTSGVD noted on the check/order form so that the wreaths arrive at the Darien location. The mailing address is WAA, P.O. Box 249 Columbia Falls, Maine 04623. Wreaths can also be ordered from the WAA website: wreathsacrossamerica.org. Dec. 3 is the last day to donate wreaths to the Darien group.