TRENTON, N.J. - Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes was joined by Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo and area veterans' organizations today in a wreath-laying ceremony at Greenwood Cemetery to honor fallen veterans.
For the third straight year, Mercer County joined hundreds of communities across the country that will lay a wreath for veterans today as part of the "Wreaths Across America" campaign to honor veterans during the holiday season. The campaign was started 16 years ago at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and has grown each year since.
"This is one of thousands of wreaths that will be laid in veterans' honor nationwide today," Hughes said during the brief ceremony in the Old Field of Honor section at the cemetery. "We are forever indebted to those who lost their lives in service to their country, to those who served and came back home, and those who are serving as we speak to protect this country. God bless them."
Today, more than 5,000 wreaths will be placed on hallowed ground at nearly 300 locations across the country, including national, state, and local cemeteries and monuments in every state.
"At this time of year, you start seeing those MasterCard commercials about what is priceless," Bencivengo said. "I believe the sacrifice of the many men and women in uniform is what is truly priceless. We owe them so much."
U.S. Air Force Colonel Norm Matthews (Ret.), the chaplain of the Catholic War Veterans Post 17 of Trenton, said the wreath-laying ceremony serves as a somber reminder that "freedom is not free."
"Freedom is something that has to be maintained. The lost lives of many Americans are the cost," Matthews said.
Hughes also thanked the Mercer County Department of Veterans Services for increasing the availability of services and programs for veterans, including upgrading the County Veterans Center on Hamilton Avenue in Hamilton.
Hughes said the County's Veterans Services assisted more veterans in 2008 than any time in recent memory. The increase in volume at the department is attributed to veterans returning from serving in current armed conflicts abroad as well as more veterans and their families who need assistance with other services such as pensions or unemployment benefits in today's tough economy. The County held a job fair specifically for veterans last month in order to encourage employers to seek out veterans who are in need of work, and the County Veterans Center in Hamilton now offers temporary transitional housing for veterans.
In addition to laying a wreath to honor their service, the County is helping more veterans cope with day-to-day challenges, Hughes said.
"Mercer County is home to nearly 35,000 veterans, some who live comfortably and have homes and good jobs," he said. "But unfortunately, there are others who need help finding a job, finding housing, getting health care benefits, and getting counseling. We are dedicated to giving every veteran who needs our help the attention he or she deserves. At this time of year and with economic conditions the way they are, this mission holds added importance."