Marblehead dispatcher driving local ‘Wreaths Across America’

Wreaths are placed at the State of the Sea Cemetery ahead of the town’s first-ever Wreaths Across America event on Saturday. Photo by Teresa Collins

At noontime on Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Waterside Cemetery, the town will host its first-ever “Wreaths Across America” event to honor veterans from Marblehead and beyond.

Wreaths Across America is a national event with the goal of remembering fallen U.S. veterans, honoring those who served, and teaching children the value of freedom.

The ceremony on Saturday will feature Glover’s Regiment presenting the colors, and the laying of wreaths at graves of veterans in Waterside. Ceremonial wreaths will be laid for those who have served or are serving in the military, those whose last known status is as a prisoner of war or missing in action members of law enforcement, and members of the fire service nationwide.

At the event, Glover’s Regiment will present the colors. Marblehead dispatcher Teresa Collins helped spearhead the effort to bring the event to the town, and in all, 679 wreaths were sponsored for Saturday’s ceremony. According to Collins, 179 veterans were laid to rest in the Veterans Lot at Waterside, 37 were laid to rest in the GAR Lot, and over 2,000 veterans’ graves are in Waterside.

At first, Collins said, she sought to garner enough wreaths to place one at each plot in the Veterans Lot at Waterside, and when they began to approach that goal she was “thrilled.”

“I thought, ‘that’s great for our first year. What a wonderful point to be at,’” she said. “Then word spread about the mission.”

Collins said she has been involved with the Wreaths Across America effort for the past decade as a motorcyclist, escorting the convoy from Maine to Arlington for the national ceremony. She then became involved with the Salem event, which she said faded away during the pandemic.

“The world had kind of stood still for a little bit during the pandemic and I said, ‘this is Marblehead, Massachusetts. Why don’t we have this here? We’re so rich in military history.’ The first step of that process was getting permission from the cemetery department, which I did and then I submitted the paperwork to Wreaths Across America … headquarters, and we became founded, we got the green light on January 6, and we’re off and running.”

As public awareness of the program grew (Collins maintains an active Facebook page) community engagement soared, she said.

For Collins, the event represents an opportunity for people to come together after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The community support has been tremendous,” she said. “As word has been leaking out of, you know what our goals are, what we’re doing, and people are becoming familiar with it, they’re absolutely getting behind it. There was so much Division during the pandemic for so many reasons. This is one way where we can all come together.”

One of the initial challenges of getting the event off the ground, Collins said, was finding out how many veterans were buried in Marblehead — and where.

To do so, Collins teamed up with the ElderAct Club, a volunteer group of senior citizens in Marblehead and Swampscott.

“There’s no database for who is laid to rest [at the cemeteries] that is a veteran,” she said. “They helped me do the research to go through every single person’s place of rest in town and identify who was a veteran, and that would give us a number then so that we would have a count of how many wreaths we would need for the program.”

Wreaths were delivered bright and early Monday morning from Maine, and Collins said the Veterans of Foreign Wars post has been a “great partner” and will host a reception after the event with snacks and refreshments.

Collins said she aims to make Wreaths Across America a Marblehead tradition.

“That’s the hope,” she said.