By Katie Engesser
Students and families from Holy Angels Catholic Academy, Bay Ridge, placed symbols of the Christmas season on around 2,000 graves at Cypress Hills Cemetery last weekend.
“For what they’ve done for us, they deserve to be honored,” said seventh grader Sean Powers.
Unlike most visitors at that solemn site, these girls and boys weren’t remembering relatives. In fact, they don’t even know the individuals buried there. What they do know – perhaps all they needed to know – is that American heroes lie in those graves.
“They risked their lives to give us freedom,” said Joseph Chelales, another seventh grader at the school.
The students took part in National Wreaths Across America Day, an opportunity to remember fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve and teach children the value of freedom by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 1,400 sites across the country, at sea and abroad.
“Maybe their family can’t visit them so it would be right for us to visit them if they don’t have people to visit them,” Joseph Chelales explained.
The thousands of soldiers laid to rest in the Brooklyn cemetery are from various branches of the U.S. military. Some date back to the Civil War.
“It’s not for the glory, it’s not for the notoriety. It’s a chance for us to give back,” said Major Jose Martinez from the Civil Air Patrol of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. “They gave to us, let’s give back to them.”
The students helped to place around 2,000 wreaths at Cyprus Hills Cemetery, but honoring the veterans has become a school-wide project. For those who couldn’t attend the service, they donated money to help pay for the grave decorations.
Sign of Respect
“I think it’s a huge sign of respect to put a wreath on a military grave,” said Michael Long, who serves as chairman of the board at Holy Angels.
Long introduced the program at the school last year. He wanted the students to take part so they would better understand the sacrifices of veterans.
“It’s very important,” Long explained, “because one of the reasons we’re able to celebrate Christmas, one of the reasons we’re able to sit down with our families and go to church and say our prayers is because people fought and died to keep us free.”
And certainly for students from Holy Angels, many of whom have parents and grandparents who are veterans, this is a lesson that they are learning well.
“I would like to have other people celebrating them and put wreaths on their graves,” added fifth grader Caroline Chelales.