Dec. 10, 2008
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Like many young men his age, Georgetown University junior football player Jon Cassidy (Alton Bay, N.H./St. John's Prep [Mass.]) had felt that he made sacrifices. He woke up early each morning and went through tough hours of football practice while most of his classmates were sleeping. Each night, he'd get work done for each of his classes and go to bed early while many were hanging out.
Then, last December, he organized some of his teammates to join him with a project called Wreaths Across America. And when the group of 20 or so football players visited Arlington National Cemetery, they learned about the sacrifices of young men and women close to their age.
This weekend, Cassidy and his Georgetown teammates will again take part in Wreaths Across America.
The Wreaths Across America program was started 16 years ago by the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine. Volunteers place wreaths on the headstones of the United States fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery. Their mission statement is "Remember ... Honor ... Teach." Now, there are ceremonies like it at veteran's cemeteries all over the country.
On Saturday, Dec. 13, before he and his teammates head downtown to watch the Georgetown men's basketball team play Memphis at Verizon Center, they will gather at Arlington National Cemetery and help to unload wreaths that have made their way from New England and help to lay them on the graves of fallen soldiers. They will arrive at the cemetery at 8 a.m. and take instructions before a moment of silence at 8:30 a.m.
Cassidy said that the emotions that came from that day were ones that have not escaped him since, which was the reason he and his teammates are going back to do it again.
"It was hard to put into words what I was feeling at Arlington (National Cemetery)," Cassidy said. "It was a mixture of sadness for those who have been lost, but also a feeling of happiness that so many people showed up to remember them. When I stood in front of the graves of Thomas Hines and George Bynum, all I could think is that these men had families too. There were people who loved them and were heartbroken when they were gone. It was one of the most heart-swelling moments of my life."
"The event last year was extremely humbling," Georgetown co-captain Dan Matheny (Fairfax, Va./Paul VI) said. "Life is more than wins and losses and that was exemplified when I laid a wreath on a man's grave who was my age when he was fighting a war and not dealing with college football. That kind of put things in perspective."
One of the instructions each volunteer was given was to be sure to read the name of each person when they placed the wreath. "It was more than just placing a wreath and walking away," senior defensive end Anthony DiTommaso (Short Hills, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) said. "I remembered finding a grave that caught my attention, a 20-year-old boy like me. Placing the wreath and taking a few moments to try and picture him truly put things into perspective for me. At the end of the day, the sight of 10,000 wreaths, each honoring its own gravestone was something special and I was happy to be part of it."
Wreaths Across America has also become a family event for Cassidy. His younger brother, Sean, is raising funds in their hometown in New Hampshire to help off-set the costs of transporting the wreaths to Washington, D.C.
"I thought this was one of the greatest things I had ever done last year," Cassidy said. "I'm really looking forward to being able to do it again and bringing more people and doing more to help this cause. And to have my brother helping out on the other end shows how much family means to you."