Time is Running Out to Remember, Honor, Teach about our Veteran Heroes at Historic Philadelphia National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day

At Philadelphia National Cemetery volunteers are working hard to ensure that the veterans resting there are honored on National Wreaths Across America Day on Saturday, December 17.

Their goal, to place a live, balsam fir veteran’s wreath at the headstone of every veteran and to speak their name aloud to remember their sacrifice, honor their service, and teach the next generation about the value of freedom.

“Philadelphia National Cemetery is a critical piece of American history that is underserved in this initiative,” said location coordinator Jeanne Harmon, “This cemetery holds 9,000 veteran interments, some dating back to the civil war including three hundred Black soldiers from United States Colored Troops who served.”

Located in the West Oak Lane, Philadelphia National Cemetery is one of the original fourteen cemeteries commissioned by Congress in 1862 to help bury the hundreds of thousands of fallen Union soldiers.

At that time Philadelphia was the second-largest American city and it factories supported the Union war effort by producing everything from blankets to gunboats. Thousands of Union soldiers passed through the city on the way to the front while more than 157,000 soldiers, sailors, and Confederate prisoners were treated in Philadelphia hospitals.

When the federal government began actively recruiting Black men for the Union Army in 1863 Camp William Penn was opened to train them. Located in what is now Cheltenham Township it was the first and largest of these camps. Eleven regiments of 10,940 soldiers completed training there, going on to distinguish themselves in action throughout the war. These troops were among the first to enter the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia in 1865, and were present at the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Black soldiers and sailors who died in the Philadelphia area during the war were originally buried in Lebanon Cemetery, one of the city’s Black-owned burial grounds. The remains were moved to Section C of the newly created Philadelphia National Cemetery in 1885.

Listed on the National Register, the Cemetery is home to memorials including the Mexican War Monument, a marble obelisk erected by the Scott Legion in honor of thirty-eight men who served and died in that conflict and the Revolutionary War Memorial, a granite and bronze memorial that commemorates those who died in the Revolutionary War. In 1911 The Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument was erected by the United States to commemorate the 184 Confederate soldiers and sailors whose remains were re-interred at the cemetery from other locations after the Civil War.

Two Medal of Honor recipients also rest there, Civil War Major General Galusha Pennypacker of the 97th Pennsylvania Infantry, for his actions at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, and Seaman Alphonse Girandy who received his medal for “fearlessly exposing own life to danger for the saving of others” when the USS Petrel caught fire in 1901.

Philadelphia National Cemetery closed its gates to new Veterans in 1962. Sixty years later it is quiet, few families remain to remember even its last interments. For many of these veterans, a wreath placement on Wreaths Across America Day will be the first time their name has been said in decades.

Jeanne Harmon and her volunteers are fighting the Monday, November 28th deadline for donations for this year’s ceremony. “Wreath sponsorship is down from previous years, and we hope to gather the community in support of this time-honored event,” she asks.

A fifteen-dollar donation will support a veteran’s wreath. For more information, to donate or to sign up to volunteer at Philadelphia National Cemetery, please visit www.WreathsAcrossAmerica.org/PAPNCP  

Many National Cemeteries are facing shortages this year. More than 4 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in the now 155 national cemeteries and 34 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 42 states and Puerto Rico.

Wreaths Across America is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery begun by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester in 1992. The organization’s mission – Remember, Honor, Teach – is carried out in part each year by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies in December at Arlington, as well as at thousands of veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond.

All Wreaths Across America Day events are, non-political/religious events, open to all people. For more information go to www.wreathsacrossamerica.org