Matthew Newberry needed a service project that would earn him the rank of Eagle Scout, and at just thirteen years old, he found one; honoring the veterans buried in the cemetery in his hometown of Leesburg, VA.
Matthew was inspired to raise money to place a Christmas wreath on the grave of each veteran at the Union Cemetery after visiting Arlington National Cemetery last December, though his admiration and respect for the military probably also came from another source – his father.
"My dad is in the military and most of my extended family is as well, so I wanted to honor them while doing a project that honors all the veterans who are fighting to keep our freedom," Matthew said. "Where I live, we have a long history of military heritage going back to the (U.S.) Revolutionary War, so I thought it would be possible to bring the (Wreaths Across America) project to my community."
His project consisted of four steps – a team of Scouts to survey the cemetery for veteran grave markers; determining the sections they would focus on, and the number of wreaths needed; raising money from the community to purchase the 120 wreaths; and then presenting and laying them.
Raising funds for the wreaths proved to be the most challenging part of the project for Matthew. He solicited donations from businesses and town residents.
"My initial donation solicitations went slow," said Matthew. "But it went much better when I started to talk to neighbors near the cemetery. I found going door-to-door to be the most meaningful because I met many neighbors who knew the veterans and many wanted to come to the ceremony to honor the veterans in person. Leesburg is an old town and the townspeople are very close to each other. People wanted to support the project and it became very important to me to make sure we succeeded in honoring these veterans."
The wreaths were laid during a ceremony led by Troop 2970 and the Leesburg Civil Air Patrol Dec. 10, 2011.
The wreath-laying ceremony was touching for Matthew’s dad, Col. Brian Newberry, who was able to be alongside his son for this project during his mid-tour leave. The colonel witnessed six distinguished transfers during his deployment to the Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan since July.
"Sadly, I know many who continue to pay the ultimate price," he said. "I also know our veterans have continually answered the call to defend our country and our way of life. Walking the grounds of Union Cemetery, I am proud my son was able to pause a moment in his busy life to learn a little about veterans from the Civil War to present."
Matthew hopes this wreath laying becomes a tradition in his community, and with young leaders like him, it probably will.
Read the full story, “ Transit Center officer spends leave honoring veterans with son ” by Tech. Sgt. Tammie Moore, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs.
Photo above: Wreaths lay against the tombstones of veterans at Union Cemetery in Leesburg, Va., Dec. 10, 2011. (Courtesy photo)
Photo at the top of the page: Matthew Newberry places a wreath on a veteran’s grave at Union Cemetery in Leesburg, Va., Dec. 10, 2011. (Courtesy photo)