Haskell, NJ – Allen C. Magie, a 17-year-old resident of Haskell and current Senior at Paramus Catholic High School adopted his local cemetery for the fourth consecutive year as a Wreaths Across America location to remember and honor Veterans laid to rest during the Holiday Season.
Midvale Cemetery, located at 332 Ringwood Avenue in the Borough of Wanaque, is maintained by members of the James W. McCartney VFW Post 6765. Over 200 Veterans are laid to rest at this location. On Saturday, December 16, 2023, Allen was joined by the VFW and Auxiliary of Post 6765, American Legion Post 246, Wanaque Police Department, Mayor Mahler, friends, family and community members to uphold the mission of Wreaths Across America which is Remember, Honor, Teach. This year, 243 wreaths were sold ensuring every Veteran laid to rest at Midvale Cemetery received one.
Wreaths Across America is a national nonprofit organization founded in 2007 expanding the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery which was started by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992 when the first 5,000 wreaths were donated and placed at Arlington. In 2005, the iconic photo of “Wreaths in the Snow” became a viral sensation promoting the idea of expanding Wreaths Across America. In 2007, Wreaths Across America became an official nonprofit organization with daily operations managed by the Worcester Family. In 2012, Wreaths Across America laid the one millionth wreath at Arlington, and in 2014, for the first time ever, a wreath was placed on every headstone at Arlington. In 2016, wreaths were placed at Arlington for the 25th consecutive year. In 2018, Wreaths Across America advanced its operations overseas by placing 9,387 wreaths at Normandy-American Cemetery in France. 2021 marked the 30th consecutive year wreaths have been placed at Arlington. 2022 saw the expansion of Wreaths Across America to include more than 3,700 participating locations in every state and United States territory. Wreaths Across America’s mission is Remember, Honor, Teach and is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington and cemetery locations in all 50 states, at sea and abroad. Since 2008, Congress has proclaimed one Saturday each December as National Wreaths Across America Day.
The 2022 Wreaths Across America recap proved successful with 2.7 million wreaths placed across the country at 3,702 locations. More than 2 million volunteers placed wreaths; one-third of the volunteers were children. Specifically at Arlington, 68 tractor trailers delivered 275,000 wreaths which were laid by 28,000 volunteers. Overall, 644 truckloads of wreaths were delivered across the country by professional truck drivers who donated their time, equipment and fuel with 296 transportation partners assisting in this task.
The 2023 Wreaths Across America theme was Serve and Succeed. The inspiration for this year’s theme came while discussing the significance of 2022’s theme which was Find A Way to Serve.
During the discussion, members of Wreaths Across America reflected on the need to continue stressing the importance of service as well as the positive impact it has on the lives of others. Wreaths Across America plans to focus on storylines of Veterans and military families who have found success through their own service, while highlighting local volunteers across the country and the success that comes from serving their communities. Wreaths Across America will continue its commitment to supporting and bringing attention to the needs of our Veteran community while also showcasing the continued contributions of those who serve.
While reflecting on this year’s theme Allen stated, “Service to others leads to personal growth and character development. While extending our service we discover its impact. We serve through charity, volunteerism and simple acts of kindness. While doing so, we serve our communities as our military has served our country. Veterans deserve our support, as these men and women exemplify service above self.”
When asked what inspired him to adopt his local cemetery as a Wreaths Across America location, Allen reflected on a past memory. “When I was ten my Mom and I were visiting the cemetery where my Pop is buried, and I observed volunteers laying wreaths. A volunteer explained the mission of Wreaths Across America, and I knew this was an event I wanted to take part in. My parents promised I’d be able to participate once I entered high school, so in 2020 I brought my idea of adopting Midvale Cemetery to Janet Hoeland, Treasurer of the Auxiliary. Jan was on board and graciously helped me connect with Bob Tennant, Commander of the VFW. Together, the three of us have planned this event for the past four years. We continue tweaking the ceremony annually and are dedicated to serving Veterans. Both my grandfathers served as well. Chuck served in the Army during Vietnam, and Al served in the Navy aboard the USS Barry. My grandfathers have passed, but I hope they’re looking down and smiling.”
Allen begins organizing the Wreaths Across America event during the summer months and spends countless hours preparing. In early August, he meets with Bob and Jan to outline the events of the day. “I’m honored to work with Bob. He’s become a good friend I’m thankful to have met, and we share a common passion for Wreaths Across America. Bob and the VFW have provided continuous support, and having the opportunity to connect with the VFW members is a pleasure. I thank each of them for their service.”
Allen also receives support from the Auxiliary. “The Auxiliary spreads the word throughout the community and assists in wreath sales. Many Auxiliary members are here today laying wreaths to honor our military,” Allen said. “Once again, a special thanks to Jan who is one of my favorite people. Without Jan, this event would have not come to fruition. Her kindness and compassion for our military is unmatched,” Allen commented.
“Bob Kronyak, former Chief of Wanaque Police Department has been instrumental in promoting the ceremony each year. He retired last year after 33 years of service. He’s always been a supporter of our community and actively participates in local events. I still call him ‘Chief” and feel blessed to have him with us today. ‘Chief’ is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and exemplifies the definition of service. This year I’m honored to have our town’s new Chief of Police in attendance. We welcome Chief Spillane and are grateful for his commitment to our cause and to the citizens of our borough. I look forward to developing a relationship with Chief Spillane and having him in attendance for our future ceremonies,” Allen continued.
“In addition, Mayor Mahler is here to lay wreaths with us which further brings our community together. A special thanks to John Kaminski and American Legion Post 246 in Haskell. Councilman Pettet also attends annually offering his support. Assemblyman Brian Bergen is also in attendance today. I appreciate him taking time out of his schedule to stop by and share this day with us. It takes an extreme amount of time and dedication to ensure Wreaths Across America is a positive event, and everyone here plays a part in promoting its success,” Allen stated.
Each year Allen invites honorary service members representing each branch of the military to take part in the ceremonial wreath presentation. “This is my favorite part of the ceremony, as we honor each branch by hearing stories of service. This portion of the ceremony adds an element of pride and signifies the sacrifices and bravery endured for our freedom,” Allen explained.
The first ceremonial wreath represented the Army and was presented by Michael Freimuth. Michael joined the United States Army following graduation from college in 2008. He served for eight years in the Army between Active Duty and the Reserves. He deployed to Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles” in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as part of the surge of American troops into that country. Active in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, his Unit contributed to reversing the momentum of the Taliban and providing stabilization at that time to the fledgling nation.
Barry Milligan presented the ceremonial wreath on behalf of the Marines. Barry Milligan served for sixteen years with the United States Marines. He served for three years of active duty and thirteen years in the Reserves with the Six Motor Transport Battalion where he reached the rank of Staff Sergeant. Barry is a Veteran of Desert Storm and was a member of the New Jersey Army National Guard 113th Infantry. Barry is currently the Senior Vice Commandant of the Lakeland Marine Corps League Detachment #744. He has also served his community as a Cub and Scout Master in Pompton Lakes for over twenty years.
The ceremonial wreath representing the Navy was presented by Edward Telep. Edward’s Naval Service began when he enlisted at age 17. He entered the Naval Training Center in Orlando, Florida in December of 1972. After completing Boot Camp with the rank of Fireman, he was assigned to Engine-Man “A” School in Great Lakes, Illinois graduating as an Engineer, 3rd Class and was ordered to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico where he 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 and embarked on Mediterranean and North Atlantic voyages. In July of 1976, Edward and his ship had the honor of participating in the Nation’s Bicentennial Celebration in New York Harbor. He completed active duty in December of 1976 and returned to New Jersey where he served for two years on Inactive Reserve Duty until he was officially Honorably Discharged in 1978.
Kevin D. LaCouture, Jr. presented ceremonial wreaths for the Air Force and Space Force. Cadet 2nd Class Kevin D. LaCouture, Jr. currently attends the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Kevin is a Junior at the Academy, also known as a “2 Degree”. He is a member of Cadet Squadron 37, known as the “Animalistic Sky Raiders.” While at the Academy, Kevin 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. Kevin was a member of the National Honor Society and participated in the hiking club while volunteering for various community service activities. He is also an EMT for the Wanaque First Aid Squad.
Bob Magee presented the wreath representing the Coast Guard. Bob entered the United States Coast Guard at age 17 in July of 1965. Bob trained in the Philadelphia Naval Yard for Damage Control and Firefighting School and worked as an Air/Sea Rescue Swimmer. Bob also worked with Customs and Immigration, Homeland Security, and the DEA on drug searches and seizures. He 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. After being discharged, he worked at Pompton Auto Body for ten years building custom cars, motorcycles and doing custom painting. He purchased the business in 1986 and still owns it today. Bob attended William Paterson University and the University of New Haven in Connecticut where he attained his teaching certificate. Bob taught Automotive and Collision at Bergen County Tech in Teterboro since 2002 and recently retired after 20+ years of service. He resides in Haskell with his wife of 53 years.
The wreath representing the Merchant Marines was presented by Nicholas Starace. Nicholas graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy with a BS degree in Marine Engineering, a US Coast Guard Third Engineer’s License, and an Ensign’s Commission in the US Navy. He graduated 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 served in the US Navy and Naval Reserve for twelve years achieving the rank of Lieutenant. He holds a USCG License as Captain, Merchant Marine Officer, 100 Tons. An international executive with a major oil company, he was the Vice President in charge of the company’s worldwide ship construction program. He lived overseas for 12 years and has visited 103 countries. Nicholas and his wife were passengers on the first terrorist bombing on Pan Am Flight 830 in 1981; they both narrowly survived. An avid ship modeler, Nicholas builds museum-quality, “Best of Show” ship models and is a long-time member of the Mercedes Benz Club of America, the Screen Actors Guild, and Past-President of the Ship Model Society of NJ. Nicholas is the author of the book, “White Sails Became Me.” In it, this modern-day renaissance man takes you on a worldwide journey living more adventure than most people dare to dream. Just a kid out of a Brooklyn tenement, who rose through the ranks via an English Tudor in Westchester, was an international executive, and capped it off with 19 years as a VA hospital volunteer.
The National Guard wreath was presented by Michael Buttros. SSG Michael Buttros has spent sixteen years in the National Guard. He is currently a full-time member of the New Jersey National Guard with the Recruiting and Retention Battalion for the last six years at the Riverdale National Guard Recruiting Station. Michael has served with the 114th Infantry Battalion in Woodbury, New Jersey and the 102nd Cavalry in Westfield, New Jersey as a 68 Whiskey- Combat Medic and Medical NCOIC. He also has conducted training missions to Germany as well as numerous state missions that include Super Storm Sandy and several COVID Missions.
The wreath representing those who have received Purple Heart Commendation was presented by Edward Benedict. Purple Heart Recipient Edward Benedict was drafted to the Army on December 27, 1965. He completed Basic Training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Gordon in Georgia, and Airborne Training at Fort Benning in Georgia. 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 on July 10, 1967 and was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina with the 82nd Airborne Division until his discharge on December 15, 1967. Upon returning home, he went back to his previous job at a machine shop in Totowa, New Jersey until he was appointed to the Totowa Borough Police Department on April 1, 1977 where he served the community for thirty years until he retired in 2007 with the rank of Deputy Chief. He has been married to his wife Carol for 53 years, has two children and five grandchildren.
Each year Wreaths Across America asks each location to present a ceremonial wreath honoring POWs and MIAs. Allen has searched for four years to find a living POW or family member of a POW. This year, he successfully found the family of a local Veteran who is buried at Midvale Cemetery. Allen shared the story of POW Richard Charles DeGraw of Bloomingdale, New Jersey. Richard’s wife Norma, daughter Barbara, son-in-law Ronald, granddaughter Stephanie and husband Dwayne, and great-grandchildren Mackenzie and Hunter were in attendance. Allen read the following which was written by Richard’s granddaughter.
Richard Charles DeGraw was a member of Battery D of the 634th AAA.A.W.BN. He was taken Prisoner of War with his Battery on December 20, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. Richard was the driver of the Battery water truck. On December 18, 1944, the Battery Commander had all Bofor Guns and Half Tracks brought to the Bivouac area. It was during this time, Richard and his Battery became completely surrounded by the enemy. They used air-cooled 50-caliber machine guns mounted on half-track vehicles, small arms, hand grenades, and bazookas to defend themselves, but could not hold back the German Assault. Their positions were under heavy fire all hours of the day and night. The Battery Commander tried to get the Battery out of encirclement, however all roads and fields were under heavy German fire, and their escape became impossible. The Bivouac area was set up in the woods, which provided very good camouflage for the Battery during their last hours of freedom. Prior to surrender, Richard and his fellow soldiers destroyed their trucks and guns ensuring nothing would be left for the Germans to use. As Richard and his Battery saw German tanks come into sight, they were forced to hoist a flag of surrender; if they hadn’t, their Battery would have been completely annihilated.
At the time of their capture, the Germans separated the Privates from the Non Coms, and the Non Coms from the Officers. Richard and his fellow POWs were forced to march behind German Lines. They walked for three days in rain and snow. During the march several of the men collapsed; Richard never saw or heard of them again. At nightfall, they were given shelter in barns, churches, or houses. As POWs, they were assembled in groups of 20 to 25 men with guards posted outside. On the third day of imprisonment, they were loaded into railroad boxcars. They were not able to wash or shave, and received food rations of three boiled potatoes and a cup of coffee once daily. No drinking water was given. During Richard’s imprisonment, he recalled only one Red Cross Package being presented which was divided among seven men. Richard was never physically abused but suffered considerable mental and emotional abuse. The lack of proper food and living conditions took its toll on his health. Eventually, he was permitted one cold shower and shave per week. POW bunks were triple deckers made of wooden slats placed 6 to 8 inches apart. There were no mattresses and only one blanket was provided. Soldiers used their shoes as pillows. There were no lights or heat. Each day, the POWs worked in the fields or on the railroad digging up the tracks.
Time passed, and Richard billeted at Stalag 4B for several days and was taken by truck where he rode for 14 miles to Mooseburg, Germany. He spent the remainder of his time as a POW at this location. During April of 1945, Richard had no idea the American Army was now close to the town where he was being held prisoner. It was difficult to know what was happening, as guards spoke very little English and there were no radios. Richard never heard any artillery prior to seeing Americans when they approached.
One morning, Richard was taken out to work on the railroad when the guards told him at nightfall, he would be liberated. That evening, the POWs were brought back to a school building, were given their ration of food and were told they could stay outside of the building that night. Mid-afternoon the following day, they saw American tanks and infantry coming across the field to their rescue. The tanks approached directly hitting the fences to run them down, ensuring the freedom of the American POWs.
Once rescued, American soldiers provided Richard with food, water, cigarettes, candy and toilet articles. The following day, Richard was transported to an American Air Base in Germany where he stayed for the next 14 days. He then flew on a C47 to France and was loaded on to a Liberty Ship which set sail to New York Harbor. From there, Richard was transferred to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. At this time, he was given a 60-day leave. Upon his return, Richard was presented with orders to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he was assigned to (ironically) guard German POWs.
Richard remained at Fort Knox until he received official discharge papers on
November 8, 1945. To put things in perspective, when Richard was captured, he weighed 170 pounds; when he was released, he weighed only 86 pounds. He was never given any new clothing and was still wearing the same clothing on the day he was released. Richard was held as a Prisoner of War for 118 days.
After being discharged and returning home, Richard met his soon-to-be wife Norma.
They were married six months after meeting. He went on to fulfill his dream of opening his own Gulf Service Station in Bloomingdale in 1947. Richard and Norma resided in Bloomingdale and remained happily married for 49 ½ years until his passing on December 16, 1995.
Upon finishing the excerpt telling Richard’s story, Allen added the following, “Today is especially significant for Richard’s family as today marks 28 years of Richard’s passing. I would like to thank Norma for allowing us to hear Richard’s story, and thanks to Stephanie for making it happen. Please join me in a round of applause for Norma as we welcome her and her family. Richard’s grave is located near the area by the Quick Check; should you be laying a wreath in the area today, please stop at Richard’s grave to thank him for his service.”
“It is Richard’s story which reminds us of sacrifices made by men and women of our military. Let us remember the POWs and MIAs who never made it home or were never found, as their sacrifices shall be forgotten. Escorted by her great-grandchildren Mackenzie and Hunter, Norma will now present the POW/MIA wreath in honor of her husband and all POWs and MIAs,” Allen continued.
Norma held the POW/MIA wreath on her lap, as her great-grandchildren wheeled her to the wreath stand. As she presented the wreath in memory of her husband, there was not a dry eye in the audience.
Allen received help from family members and friends as well. “I couldn’t have done this without my parents. It’s a huge undertaking, and they go above and beyond to help. A big thanks goes out to my grandma, who provides lunch at the VFW after the ceremony. A special thanks goes to my friend, mentor and bagpipe instructor, Joe Smolinski who joins me each year to play Amazing Grace. Special thanks to the Pettet Family for graciously sharing their voices with us by singing our National Anthem and God Bless America. and a big thanks to Logan Leeds for the beautiful playing of TAPS. I would also like to thank Nick for reading the poem Just A Common Soldier to close our ceremony today,” Allen graciously stated.
Allen is currently a Senior at Paramus Catholic High School and is no stranger to community service. During his freshman, sophomore and junior 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 presented with the award for Most Service Hours for the Freshman Class. During his eighth grade graduation from Haskell School, Allen was awarded the George and Jeannette Biggio Award for Community Service and received the Kindness Award. 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
Allen has been a member of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation Young Ambassador (HLFYA) Program since 2019, where he has served as an Ambassador, Mentor, President and President Emeritus. HLFYA empowers young individuals to perform community service by forming independent service projects. “Being a member of HLFYA is an experience which has provided opportunities for young people to make an impact through our service. HLFYA has built my confidence and has shown me firsthand the power young people can have in their communities,” Allen stated.
“My parents have instilled the importance of volunteerism throughout my life. They are founders of the nonprofit organization Skate It Forward, Inc. and have taught me that no act of service is too small, as there is always someone we can help. Community service has become part of the individual I am and is about finding your own voice to help others. Everyone has the ability to give back. Find something you’re passionate about and work from there. Trust that you will indeed make an impact.”
Allen has played ice hockey since age four and is part of the Union Thunder Junior Hockey program in the Eastern Hockey League – Premier division. Allen is Captain of the Varsity Ice Hockey team at Paramus Catholic and has also served as Captain of the Varsity Golf team since sophomore year. Allen is also a member of Claddagh Pipe Band of West Milford, NJ. He is an employee of Twin Willows Par 3 Golf Course (also known as ‘The Three’) in Lincoln Park. In his free time Allen enjoys fishing, going to the movies, playing Xbox and hanging out with his friends. Allen is currently submitting applications to various colleges where he plans to study Business Marketing and Sports Management.
When asked if he plans on holding a Wreaths Across America ceremony at Midvale Cemetery in the future, Allen responded by saying, “Absolutely. I plan to continue this event for as long as I can. My support and compassion for Veterans is dear to my heart, and I will continue to show my thanks to our military in any way possible. I am blessed to have formed relationships with our Veterans and I thank them all for their service,” Allen concluded.
For more information on Wreaths Across America visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org