Wreaths Across America Comes to Sag Harbor

Bethany Deyermond leads the group in prayer as members of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Sag Harbor American Legion were joined by local girl scouts as they laid out Christmas wreaths on the graves of those who served in the military as part of the Wreaths Across America program at Oakland Cemetery on Saturday, 12/15/18. Michael Heller photo

Sag Harbor is a village that cherishes its veterans, including those who have passed on, honoring those lost in the line of service through annual parades and ceremonies, in the actions of the volunteers with local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars groups, right down to the cards made by school children on Veterans Day.

On Saturday, Sag Harbor honored its late veterans in a new way — by taking part in Wreaths Across America, a national effort to decorate their gravesites with holiday wreaths.

The local effort was led by Bethany Deyermond, a member of the American Legion Chelberg-Battle Post 388’s Ladies Auxiliary, who entered a contest in the spring to win wreaths for Sag Harbor’s late veterans, and was successful. She was inspired to do so after taking part in a Wreaths Across America ceremony last year in Haverhill, Massachusetts, near where her husband, Ed Deyermond, grew up.

Over cups of piping hot Twinings Christmas tea, next to a roaring fire, Ms. Deyermond said she “loved the whole concept of having a wreath for every service person.” She is connected to the military in multiple ways: not only is she the daughter of a World War II veteran, but also her own daughter, Kate, works for the United States Army, and Kate’s husband, Russell, is a food specialist with the Army and a member of the Texas National Guard who was at one time deployed in Afghanistan.

According to the Wreaths Across America website, the organization believes “there is no better time to express our appreciation than during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.”

“We understand we have Veterans Day in the fall and Memorial Day in the spring, but our service members sacrifice their time and safety every single day of the year to preserve our freedoms,” the organization says.

The placing of the wreaths actually began on Friday, when the Deyermonds and Dianna Lattanzio set up seven wreaths around the flagpole at Oakland Cemetery representing each branch of the United States military service. Debbie Guerin, a past president of the Ladies Auxiliary, placed a wreath at the grave of Frederick Chelberg, one of the soldiers for whom Sag Harbor’s American Legion post is named.

Earlier in the day, the Deyermonds met up with truckers from Tyson Foods who had volunteered to deliver the wreaths to various locations. Sag Harbor, which received 100 wreaths from the organization, was one of more than 1,400 official Wreaths Across America communities spanning all 50 states and some overseas locations as well.

The Wreaths Across America ceremonies continued on Saturday, when Girl Scouts from Sag Harbor’s Troop 152 joined the Ladies Auxiliary under cloudy skies to place wreaths on veterans’ graves at Oakland Cemetery and at the St. Andrew Church cemetery.

“In Oakland, you can find Civil War veterans, World War I, World War II, Korea and more,” Ms. Deyermond explained. “It’s the same in St. Andrew’s.”

She worked with Ken Yardley, who manages the Oakland Cemetery in addition to co-owning local funeral homes, to make Oakland an official Wreaths Across America cemetery.

“Any cemetery I could think of would be happy to allow that type of program for honoring veterans,” Mr. Yardley said. “I think it’s a cause that’s close to almost everybody’s heart. There are lots of veterans in my family and lots of veterans in Sag Harbor. Oakland Cemetery is appreciative of the efforts.”

Ms. Deyermond cited the Wreaths Across America mission statement — “remember, honor, teach” — as something that resonated with her.

“I just feel it’s becoming more and more important to remember and honor them,” she said. “It’s a part of our history.”

Ms. Lattanzio said she took part in Wreaths Across America to honor her late uncle, Nicholas Cilli, a United States Air Force pilot who grew up on Cilli farm on Glover Street. He was shot down over Austria in 1944 on one of his last missions, Ms. Lattanzio said.

“All of his siblings are gone except one,” she said. “I called my aunt, Ange Cole, who lives in Southampton, and she said she’s so appreciative that this was done and he was remembered. This meant so much to her. It was a great thing.”

Debbie Guerin places a wreath on the grave of Frederick Chelberg, one of the soldiers for whom Sag Harbor’s American Legion post is named. Christine Sampson photo