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Wreaths Across America, remembering veterans during the holidays, stops in Diocese of Wilmington

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Father Donald Van Alstyne, a retired military chaplain, salutes after placing a wreath at the base of the Guardians of Defenders memorial. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

CLAYMONTWreaths Across America, the annual holiday tribute to military personnel, made three stops in Delaware and four in the Diocese of Wilmington on Dec. 16, the first one at Holy Rosary Church in Claymont. The parish grounds are the home of the Guardians of Defenders monument, which, according to Holy Rosary pastor Father John Gayton, is the first of its kind in the United States for those fighting the Global War on Terror.

The Wreaths Across America convoy has been traveling from its base in Maine toward Arlington, Va., where a closing ceremony will be held Dec. 18. It includes 12 tractor-trailers full of wreaths that will be laid on the graves of the military personnel buried at Arlington National Cemetery; other wreaths are being left at memorials and cemeteries along the way.

Four wreaths remained in Claymont, one for each of the town’s military memorials. A large crowd gathered on an unseasonably warm morning for the event, which included music by the Concord High School chorus and band, as well as remarks from Ralph W. Galati, who spent more than a year as a prisoner of war in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

Father Gayton, a retired military chaplain, welcomed the Gold Star and Blue Star families, first responders, government officials, members of the parish and others to the event. He said that even when the country is divided on so many issues, that seems to disappear when it comes to honoring our military.

“All of us are just people honoring those who served,” he said.

The Guardians of Defenders memorial is an appropriate place for Wreaths Across America to stop, he said.

“This is a place for healing,” Father Gayton said.

Galati said he was one of 591 people captured in Hanoi, but his is just one story regarding the military and the sacrifices they make. In Vietnam, nearly 3 million troops served in uniform in that country during the war. More than 58,000 died, and more than 1,500 are still classified as missing. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which lists the names of all those killed during the conflct, includes three sets of fathers and sons, along with 31 sets of brothers. The age of the youngest victim was 15.

Father Donald Van Alstyne, who is in residence at Holy Rosary and also was a military chaplain, placed the wreath at the Guardians of Defenders memorial.

The convoy of police cars from around New England and beyond, volunteers and others associated with Wreaths Across America then headed to Saint Mark’s High School, where the second Delaware ceremony was held. The final stop in the state was scheduled for Middletown before heading to Stevensville, Md., and American Legion Post 278 Kent Island.

Members of the Diocesan Gospel Choir participated in an event on Saturday, according to Brenda Burns, diocesan director of the Office for Black Catholics.

All photos by Mike Lang.