With students chanting “USA” and a crowd waving American flags in the chilly air, a crowd of township officials, students, staff and parents excitedly lined up from front to back of Harrison Township Elementary School.
The caravan was coming.
An escort of veterans and military family members from across the country stopped by the Mullica Hill school at 9 a.m., Dec. 12, on its annual journey to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The caravan was part of Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the annual wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington. Harrison Elementary was chosen as a stop for the first time in school history.
“It’s a huge honor to be picked,” said township Mayor Lou Manzo. “The most impactful thing is these kids … they seem to get the whole feeling of community and especially the support of the United States military. It’s really impressive.”
The school was the last stop of five in New Jersey, including Port Monmouth, Holmdel, Skillman and Bordentown. The caravan ended its day traveling through Delaware and into Maryland, according to its schedule.
The Harrison school’s choir and band students performed “This Land is Your Land” and read poetic speeches to caravan members during an assembly honoring the visit.
“Just this last hour, having the opportunity to walk amongst the staff and kids, what they’re taking away from this from your visit, for what you have done for this country, will never be forgotten,” said Superintendent Margaret Peretti during her speech in the school auditorium.
Wreaths Across America began in 1992 with 5,000 wreaths delivered to Arlington in a single truck, according to its website. This year, the caravan was escorted by 11 tractor trailers hauling a portion of 253,000 sponsored wreaths.
In addition, the National President of American Gold Star Mothers (AGSM) Mona Gunn — who was selected to lead the caravan as this year’s grand marshal — was greeted by the Harrison community.
Gold Star Families, Blue Star Families, veterans, volunteers and supporters from across the country also in attendance were escorted by members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Patriot Riders of America and Rolling Thunder, along with law enforcement departments from Maine.
The caravan traveled down the East Coast from Maine on Dec. 7, stopping at schools, memorials and other locations along the way to spread its mission to “remember, honor and teach.” It arrived at its cemetery destination Dec. 14 — National Wreaths Across America Day — and more than 200,000 wreaths were placed on Arlington graves.