Belleville Historical Society places wreaths at veterans’ graves

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BELLEVILLE, NJ — What do U.S. Marine Corp Pfc. Donald Saunders, of Belleville; Marine Corp Pfc. Richard Bates, of Nutley; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Paul Christmas, of North Carolina; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Edwin Aponte, of Puerto Rico; a dozen other U.S. Marines; 15 U.S. Army personnel; two U.S. Navy seamen; and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Calvin Alexander, of Virginia, all have in common? They were all killed in action in Vietnam and they all rest side by side in row F at Glendale Cemetery in Bloomfield.

Every year the Belleville Historical Society’s Wreaths Across America project, which places wreaths at the graves of veterans buried in local cemeteries, includes a visit to the veteran section of Glendale Cemetery to lay 15 wreaths on the graves of 15 young men from Belleville and Nutley who were killed in action during World War II and the Vietnam War. 

Volunteers turned out in large numbers on Saturday, Dec. 17, for the event. At noon, prior to proceeding to Glendale Cemetery, locals gathered at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Belleville where the Rev. Ivan Sciberras blessed 100 wreaths before they were set in the church cemetery. 

Nutley author Anthony Buccino spoke briefly about the need to remember veterans and those lost in war. The first wreaths were placed on the graves of World War I soldiers and best friends Pvt. Michael Flynn and Pvt. Edward Crowell, both lost during the war and buried side by side in the cemetery. Members of the newly formed Belleville ROTC, with unit leader retired Lt. Col. Richard Wasserman, then set a wreath at the monument to Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Fred Stockham, of Belleville, who also lost his life during World War I. 

Volunteers at the ceremony included Belleville veterans led by American Legion Post 105 Cmdr. Joseph Cobianchi, Belleville Mayor Michael Melham, Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli, Board of Education member Frank Velez, and former Board of Education members Michael Sheldon and Nelson Berrera. Boy Scouts from Belleville and Bloomfield, and Nutley High School head football coach JD Vick and students were also on hand to help set wreaths. Bloomfield Scouts later proceeded to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Newark to set wreaths and Nutley students later set wreaths at the cemeteries at Vincent United Methodist Church and Franklin Reformed Church, both in Nutley.

At 1:30 p.m., volunteers assembled in the veteran section of Glendale Cemetery, where scores of wreaths were set on the graves of young men killed in action. While the society usually lays 15 wreaths at Glendale, this year the society had great support and had 50 sponsors for wreaths at the cemetery. The Belleville Historical Society had recently cleaned an entire row of 35 gravestones of young men killed in Vietnam. There veterans were again joined by Boy Scouts and Bloomfield Girl Scouts, as well as a large contingent of Pfizer employees who had sponsored many of the wreaths. Former Belleville Police Officer Scott Sims played the bagpipe at both events.

The two ceremonies were the start of a three-day process in which Belleville Historical Society members traveled to set wreaths at more than 15 cemeteries in six counties in northern New Jersey, where young men from Belleville and Nutley who were killed in action were buried. Approximately 350 wreaths were set this year, according to Belleville Historical Society President Michael Perrone. The Belleville Historical Society also sets wreaths on the graves of 10 Medal of Honor recipients.

Photos Courtesy of Michael Perrone