Wreaths project resonates with Gold Star family members

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For local Gold Star family members at a Wreaths Across America ceremony Monday that honored veterans and marked a relay of truckloads of wreaths, the poignant event brought memories and meaning.

• “We’re always grateful for when our fallen are remembered,” said Donna Parker, the mother of Marine Corps Sgt. Elisha R. Parker of Camden, who was killed in action in 2006 in Iraq at age 21.

The Wreaths Across America program “started so small” and has “blossomed so beautifully throughout the country,” she observed of the annual event that on Saturday will include memorial wreaths placed on the graves of U.S. veterans in over 1,400 cemeteries.

• “This is very nice...just very nice” in the recognition of veterans, said Michael Geary, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel J. Geary of Rome who was killed in action in 2009 in Afghanistan at age 22. Daniel Geary’s mother, Agnes Geary, added “it’s great” including to “honor those who did not make it back.”

• “I just think it’s wonderful” to “still pay tribute and not forget” including those who served in Vietnam, said Susan Keating of Holland Patent, whose father Army Master Sgt. Kenneth Roraback of the Green Berets was killed in action in Vietnam in 1966.

Keating, who sees “more and more recognition” now of those who served during the Vietnam War, recalled that when she was a teenager her mother had told her not to tell people about the Vietnam service.

She said of Monday’s ceremony, “this was very much an honor....It makes me and my family know he’s remembered...not forgotten” for his sacrifice.

The family members were among attendees at a ceremony at Rome Free Academy that included the local Walmart transportation facility’s relay of four tractor-trailer loads of wreaths; they were received from Walmart drivers in New Hampshire, and the relay ultimately will bring the four loads to cemeteries in Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas as part of the nationwide Wreaths Across America observance

The “very special ceremony” was to “commemorate the sacrifices” of military members including those “who laid down their lives serving their country,” Danielle Sexton, General Transportation Manager at Walmart’s Marcy facility, said at the start of Monday’s event. She added that each year “millions come together” for the Wreaths Across America program to honor all those who served in the military as well as “teach others the value of freedom.”

During the ceremony, about 20 veterans present in the audience in the RFA auditorium were asked to stand and be recognized, including receiving commemorative pins. Presentations on veterans who served in Vietnam were read aloud by Sexton’s son Noah Sexton, a seventh-grader at Notre Dame school in Utica; Gavin Mooney, grandson of one of the local Walmart drivers; and Devanne Coonrod, an Army veteran and employee at the Walmart distribution facility.

Donna Parker, noting her husband Renny Parker is a Vietnam War veteran, expressed appreciation for hearing the stories of what service members experienced during that era.

Veterans’ overall “immeasurable” sacrifices were cited during the ceremony by Mike Backer, a manager at the Walmart distribution facility. Though “our understanding is limited...let our gratitude be unending.”

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