By Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland)
As you may know by now, the National Park Service has reversed its decision to not issue an application for the annual Sgt. Mac Foundation wreath laying event in Gettysburg. This event which has taken place since 2008 would not have happened if the community had not raised its voice to revise this overly stringent interpretation of the guidelines. I want to thank everyone who reached out to the National Park Service, especially U.S. Rep. John Joyce and Stan Clark, the Adams County director of Veterans Affairs, whose advocacy directly impacted this outcome. However, while the ceremony in Gettysburg will go ahead, another annual event remains in peril.
The below column was written before the National Park Service reversed its decision on the Wreaths Across America ceremony. Though some of the information is now obsolete, my words still ring true, particularly the tree-lighting ceremony at Children’s Lake in Boiling Springs that has been canceled due to the service’s attendance limits. I will continue to advocate for our communities so that our traditions are not quashed.
For the past 12 years, Gettysburg National Cemetery has been blessed to start its first Friday of December with a dignified ceremony, followed by the laying of wreaths to honor fallen soldiers in their final resting place. John McColley founded The Sgt. MAC Foundation after his son was tragically killed while serving in the Marines in 2006, and the organization’s mission is to honor those who have died for our country by placing wreaths on their graves. I have participated in many of these events with Wreaths Across America and can personally attest to the importance of this beautiful tradition.
When I learned that the foundation’s routine yearly application to hold its ceremony was denied this year, I was deeply upset. Newly appointed Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Steve Sims is within his right to deny the ceremony, but he is also just as entitled to allow it to take place. Six superintendents prior to Sims’ appointment have allowed the ceremony to take place without question. Despite being a graduate of West Point, Sims’ may need a reminder on the importance of honoring our fallen veterans.
Many National Parks are very separate from their communities—however, that is the antithesis of Gettysburg National Park. Our beloved park surrounds the town and is part of its residents’ daily lives. Although the official battlefields lay outside the town, in 1863 the battle was fought right through the center of town. Traveling through the battlefields, walking past buildings with bullet holes and cannonball holes, and spending time at the various historical sites is part of everyday life and the cemetery is no exception.
And as if denying our veterans their well-deserved honor was not enough, now news has come that because of a ridiculous attendance limitation from the National Park Service the annual tree lighting ceremony at Children’s Lake has been cancelled. Adults and children alike look forward to the beautiful tree, Santa’s triumphant arrival and the gazebo visits. I refuse to remain silent as local time-honored traditions continue to be willfully dismissed.
I have contacted Congressmen John Joyce’s and Scott Perry’s offices regarding these matters and have directly expressed my displeasure to the National Park Service. It is abundantly clear that several of their recent policies and decisions do not respect or honor the wishes of those within our community.
Representative Torren Ecker
193rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross