Allen Magie, a 16-year-old resident of Haskell, NJ adopted his local cemetery for the third consecutive year as a Wreaths Across America location to remember Veterans laid to rest during the Holiday Season. Midvale Cemetery, located on Ringwood Avenue in the Borough of Wanaque, is maintained by James W. McCartney VFW Post 6765. Over 200 Veterans are laid to rest at this location. On Saturday, December 17, 2022, Allen was joined by VFW and Auxiliary members, American Legion members, members of Wanaque Police Department, Mayor Mahler, friends, family and individuals from his community to uphold the mission of Wreaths Across America – Remember, Honor, Teach.
Wreaths Across America began in 1992 when Maine businessman Morrill Worcester of the Worcester Wreath Company donated 5,000 wreaths to be laid at Arlington National Cemetery. Wreaths Across America became an official nonprofit organization in 2007 expanding the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington to other cemeteries in all 50 states, at sea and abroad. In 2012, the one-millionth wreath was placed at Arlington, and in 2014, for the first time, every grave at Arlington received a wreath. In 2016, wreaths were laid at Arlington for the 25th consecutive year. In 2018, Wreaths Across America advanced overseas with the first placement of 9,387 wreaths at Normandy-American Cemetery in France. The mission of Wreaths Across America is Remember, Honor, Teach and since 2008, Congress has proclaimed the third Saturday in December as National Wreaths Across America Day.
The 2021 Wreaths Across America recap proved successful. Three thousand, one hundred thirty-six Wreaths Across America locations were involved with laying wreaths. Five-hundred twenty-five truckloads of wreaths were delivered by 390 volunteer carriers. Over two million volunteers participated in laying wreaths in 2021 with one-third of the volunteers being children. In addition, 2.4 million wreaths were laid upon Veterans’ graves thanking fallen soldiers for their service.
The 2022 Wreaths Across America theme was Find A Way to Serve and was inspired by the American Rosie Movement highlighting stories of World War II-Era women best known as Rosie the Riveters. These women pulled together performing work in factories and shipyards while men were off fighting in the war. Rosie the Riveter is best known for being depicted on posters with the quote, We Can Do It representing the iconic housewife-turned-hero. The inspiring stories of the Riveters have influenced Wreaths Across America to revamp their action plan to continue inspiring people to Find A Way to Serve as the Riveters did. While reflecting on this year’s theme, Allen stated, “Let us remember the phrase Find A Way to Serve and remember our Heroes – Veterans and those currently serving – who have given their service to America. We can find ways to serve through charity, volunteerism or acts of kindness. While doing so, we serve our communities as our military has served our country.”
When asked what inspired him to adopt his local cemetery as a Wreaths Across America location, Allen had a heartfelt explanation. “I’ve wanted to participate in Wreaths Across America since I was ten. When my family and I were visiting the cemetery where my Pop is buried, I saw volunteers laying wreaths and knew this was what I wanted to do. Both my grandfathers served our country; Chuck served in the Army during Vietnam, and Al served in the Navy aboard the USS Barry. My parents promised I’d be able to participate when I entered high school, so in 2020 I got involved and have been working with the VFW ever since. Each year we add to the ceremony, and hopefully this event continues for many years to come. My grandfathers have passed, but I hope they’re looking down upon me and and are proud.”
Allen began his Wreaths Across America project over the summer spending countless hours preparing. In early August, he partnered for the third year with James W. McCartney Post 6765. “I’m honored to work hand-in-hand with Commander Bob Tennant. He’s become a good friend and we share a common passion for Wreaths Across America. I thank Bob and all VFW members for their continued support. It is an honor to know each of them, and I thank all of them for their service.”
In addition, Allen received support from the Auxiliary. “The Auxiliary helps each year by spreading the word throughout the community. Many of them are here today laying wreaths,” Allen said. “A special thanks to Janet Hoeland who is a family friend and one of my favorite people. She supports me through each Wreaths Across America project, inspiring me to do my best. Without Jan, this event would not be possible. I recently joined the Auxiliary, so the ladies are stuck with me now,” Allen commented.
“Chief Kronyak and Wanaque Police Department are instrumental in promoting the ceremony each year. Chief Kronyak retired earlier this week after 33 years serving the Borough of Wanaque. He’s always been a supporter of the community and actively participates in town events. He makes it a point to know his residents and is willing to go out of his way to help. Our town will definitely miss him being Chief, but we all know he will continue supporting our residents and community. He’s a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, and it’s an honor to have him attend each year,” Allen explained. “Mayor Mahler also attends each year to lay wreaths with us which is awesome. A special thanks to John Kaminski and members of American Legion Post 246 in Haskell. It’s great working with so many people in our community,” Allen stated.
Just as in previous years, Allen invited an honorary individual to represent each branch during ceremonial wreath presentations. “This is my favorite part of the event, as we honor each branch and hear stories of service. It adds an element of pride and is a significant reminder of sacrifices and bravery endured for our freedom,” Allen explained.
The first ceremonial wreath represented the Army and was presented by Daniel Ort. Staff Sergeant Daniel Ort served in the Army from 1977 to 1992 as an Electronic Maintenance Supervisor. He served with the 82 Airborne, 5th Signal Command and the 4th Infantry Division. Staff Sergeant Ort served three tours overseas receiving a Meritorious Service Medal and three Army Commendation Medals. He has also been a member of the Disabled American Veterans as well as the American Legion for 32 years.
Barry Milligan presented the ceremonial wreath representing the Marines. Barry served 16 years with the Marines, three years active and 13 in the Reserves with the Six Motor Transport Battalion reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant. He is a Veteran of Desert Storm and a member of the NJ Army National Guard 113th Infantry. Barry is currently the Senior Vice Commandant of the Lakeland Marine Corps League Detachment #744. He has also served as a Cub and Scout Master in Pompton Lakes, NJ for 20 years.
Edward Telep presented the wreath representing the Navy. Edward’s Naval Service began when, with his mother’s permission, he enlisted at age 17. He entered the Naval Training Center in Orlando, FL in 1972 and after completing Boot Camp with the rank of Fireman was assigned to Engine-Man A School in Great Lakes, IL graduating as an Engineer, 3rd Class. He was ordered to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico and was assigned to Surface Operations, Target Division providing targets to the fleet training at the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Range. He transferred to the USS Edenton, a Salvage and Rescue Ship embarking on lengthy Mediterranean and North Atlantic voyages. In July 1976, Edward and his ship had the honor of participating in the Nation’s Bicentennial Celebration in NY Harbor. He completed active duty in December 1976 returning to NJ and serving two years on Inactive Reserve Duty until being Honorably Discharged in 1978.
Kevin D. LaCouture, Jr. presented wreaths representing the Air Force and Space Force. Cadet 3rd Class LaCouture currently attends the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. Kevin is a Sophomore at the Academy, also known as a “3 Degree”. He is a member of Cadet Squadron 37, known as the “Animalistic Sky Raiders.” While at the Academy, he is part of the Cadet First Responder Team, History Club and Cadet Space Operations Team. He majors in Military Strategic Studies and upon commissioning hopes to become a pilot. Kevin is a 2020 graduate of Lakeland Regional High School where he played football, was Captain of the wrestling team and was on the track team. He was a member of the National Honor Society and participated in the Hiking Club while volunteering for various community service activities. He is an EMT for the Wanaque First Aid Squad and is also a certified lifeguard.
Bob Magee presented the wreath representing the Coast Guard. Bob graduated from Lakeland Regional High School in June 1965 and entered the Coast Guard at the age of 17. Bob trained in the Philadelphia Naval Yard for Damage Control and Firefighting School and worked as an Air/Sea Rescue Swimmer. He worked with Customs and Immigration, Homeland Security and the DEA on drug searches and seizures. Bob was attached to CGC W203, a Search and Rescue Ship for firefighting, aids to navigation, high sea rescue, and skin diving in search of survivors during plane crashes as well as ship and boat sinkings. Bob attended William Paterson University and the University of New Haven attaining his teaching certificate. Since 2002, Bob has taught Automotive and Collision at Bergen County Tech in Teterboro, NJ.
The wreath representing the Merchant Marines was presented by Nicholas Starace. Nicholas graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy with a BS degree, a United States Coast Guard Third Engineer’s License, and an Ensign’s Commission in the United States Navy. He went on to graduate from Stevens Institute of Technology with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering and sailed on the flagship of the United States Merchant Marine, the SS United States, as an Engineering Officer. He later served in the Navy and Naval Reserve for 12 years achieving the rank of Lieutenant. An international executive with a major oil company, he was the Vice President in charge of the company’s worldwide ship construction program. For the past 20 years he has volunteered at the VA Hospital in East Orange, NJ, which he says is, “the most gratifying experience of my life.” Nicholas is also the author of the book, White Sails Became Me.
This year, Allen added to the ceremony by including wreaths representing the National Guard, Purple Heart Recipients and those listed as Prisoners of War (POWs) or Missing in Action (MIAs). “It’s my goal to add to the event each year by recognizing and paying homage to our military. Expressing gratitude to those who have served is my way of giving back,” Allen said.
The National Guard wreath was presented by Michael Buttros. SSG Buttros has spent 15 years in the National Guard. He is currently a full-time member of the NJ National Guard with the Recruiting and Retention Battalion for the last five years at the Riverdale National Guard Recruiting Station. Michael has served with the 114th Infantry Battalion in Woodbury, NJ and the 102nd Cavalry in Westfield, NJ as a 68 Whiskey-Combat Medic and Medical NCOIC. He has also conducted training missions to Germany as well as numerous state missions including Super Storm Sandy and several COVID Missions.
The wreath representing those who have received Purple Heart Commendation was presented by Edward Benedict. Edward was drafted into the Army in December 1965. He completed Basic Training at Fort Dix in NJ, Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Gordon in GA, and Airborne Training at Fort Benning in GA. He was sent to Vietnam on July 10, 1966 and was assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Regiment, Wolfounds, 25th Infantry Division at Cu Chi, Republic of Vietnam. Edward was wounded in action three times: November 4, 1966, January 12,1967 and March 14, 1967 for which he has received three Purple Hearts. He returned to the states as a Sergeant in July 1967 and was sent to Fort Bragg in NC with the 82nd Airborne Division until his discharge in December 1967. Upon returning home, he was appointed to the Totowa Police Department in 1977 where he served the community for 30 years until his retirement in 2007 at the rank of Deputy Chief.
Allen has searched for the past three years to find a family of a soldier listed as a POW or MIA. This year he successfully found a family of a POW from NJ. Through research Allen discovered Bergen County Clerk John Hogan is the nephew of POW Dennis L. Hogan, Jr. Allen shared the following story of POW Hogan during the ceremony.
Private First Class Dennis L. Hogan, Jr. was the seventh of 15 children in an Irish family. Like many young men, Dennis felt it was his patriotic duty to enlist in the Army five months after Pearl Harbor at the age of 20. After basic training, he volunteered to be a paratrooper, becoming a member of the newly formed 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Their task was to prepare for eventual invasion of Japan by island-hopping and recapturing strategic islands. Dennis was a machine gunner by training and became a scout, placing him in front of his platoon during conflicts. In March of 1945, Dennis’ unit was given the mission to clear supply routes to the southern port city of Batangas near the Phillipines. In the mountains with nearly impossible terrain, they encountered an enemy similar to suicide bombers, but his unit eventually made it to the target area in April. On April 22nd, his company was overrun on Hill 2380 by a suicide attack. Dennis was lost along with most of his company. Research revealed Dennis was killed while attempting to rescue Master Sergeant Anderson Peters. He was struck in the back by enemy machine gun fire. The bodies of 16 fellow soldiers were recovered and initially, Dennis’ body was listed as recovered and buried in Batangas Cemetery. His dog tags and personal possessions were sent home to his mother. When she tried to have his body returned to the US, the cemetery had no record of Dennis. His mother spent five years trying to locate his remains. In July of 1950, his parents received a letter from the Department of the Army stating: “It is with deep regret that your government finds it necessary to inform you that further search and investigation have failed to reveal the whereabouts of your son’s remains. Since all efforts to recover and identify his remains have failed, it has been necessary to declare that his remains are not recoverable.” Dennis was 23 at the time of his death and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action, A Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. His remains have never been recovered.
After reading Dennis’ story Allen added, “It is Dennis’s story that reminds us of the sacrifices made by the men and women in our military. Let us remember our POWs and MIAs, for their sacrifices will never be forgotten.” Allen then presented the ceremonial wreath representing POWs and MIAs.
This year, Allen sold 342 wreaths, and every Veteran laid to rest at Midvale Cemetery received one. In addition, the VFW visited several memorials throughout Wanaque, laying wreaths at Memorial Field, Addice Park, the VFW, American Legion, and the new memorial in front of Wanaque Town Hall. Wreaths were also laid at another nearby cemetery where several Civil War Veterans are buried. The extra wreaths were donated to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, NJ which is also a Wreaths Across America location.
Allen received help from family members and friends which made the ceremony successful. “I couldn’t have done this without my parents. It’s a huge undertaking, and they go above and beyond to help. Big thanks goes out to my grandma, Georgianna for providing lunch at the VFW after the ceremony. It gives us time as a community to gather together. Thanks to my family members for joining us today, and a special thanks goes to my friend and bagpipe instructor, Joe Smolinski who joins me each year to play Amazing Grace. Special thanks to the Pettet Family for singing our National Anthem as well as God Bless America, and a big thanks to Matt Harder for the beautiful playing of TAPS.”
Allen is currently a junior at Paramus Catholic High School and is no stranger to community service. During his freshman and sophomore years he was a recipient of the Saint Teresa of Calcutta Award for completing a minimum of 100 hours of community service. During his Freshman year he was also presented with the award for Most Service Hours as a Freshman. During his eighth grade graduation from Haskell School, Allen was awarded the George and Jeannette Biggio Award for Community Service and also received the Kindness Award. He has been a member of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation Young Ambassador (HLFYA) Program since 2019 serving as President in 2021 and President Emeritus in 2022. HLFYA empowers young individuals to perform community service by forming independent service projects. “Being a member of HLFYA is a rewarding experience and provides opportunities for young people to make an impact through service. HLFYA has built my confidence and it’s an honor to be part of the organization,” Allen stated. Allen is also a 2021 recipient of the Points of Light Award, a 2020 recipient of the NJ Governor’s Jefferson Award for the category of Youth in Service, and was a 2019 recipient of the Kids Who Make Magic Award.
“I was raised to give back to those in need and use my time helping others. My parents are founders of the nonprofit organization Skate It Forward, Inc. and have taught me to look inside myself to discover how I can make the world a better place. Community service is part of who I am and has presented me with opportunities to meet many people. I am thankful to have various opportunities to pay it forward by helping others. Community service is not only about raising money; it is about finding your own voice from inside yourself and figuring out what drives you to help others. Everyone has the ability to give back; you just have to find something you’re passionate about and work from there.”
When asked if he plans on holding a Wreaths Across America ceremony at Midvale Cemetery again in the future, Allen responded by saying, “Absolutely. I plan to hold a ceremony each year for as long as I possibly can. This is an event which I hold dear in my heart, and I’m confident the event can continue with success. I’m already looking forward to next year. Once again, thank you to all who attended today. I am blessed to have formed so many relationships with our Veterans and I thank them all for their service,” Allen concluded.
For more information on Wreaths Across America and how to get involved, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org
This year Allen successfully found a family of a NJ POW. Private First Class Dennis L. Hogan, Jr. was killed in action on April 22, 1945 at the age of 23. Originally his family was told he was buried in a Batangas Cemetery; however, when his mother tried to have his remains returned home, there was no record of Dennis. His mother tirelessly searched for five years to locate his remains, but in 1950 she received a letter from the Department of the Army stating his remains were declared to be unidentified. Dennis was posthumously awarded with the Silver Star for Gallantry in Action, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. His remains have never been recovered.
Chief Kronyak of Wanaque Police Department attended the ceremony for the third consecutive year to assist with wreath laying. Chief Kronyak retired earlier this week after serving the Borough of Wanaque for 33 years. Allen wishes him the very best: “Thank you for your service, Chief. And, Happy Retirement.”