HANSON — A traditional English Christmas carol celebrates preparation for the holiday as people “deck the halls with boughs of holly,” but Marc Benjamino, a junior at WHRHS, had a more meaningful decoration job to do on Saturday, Dec. 17.
On the strength of his private fundraising effort in support of the Wreaths Across America program, for which he raised $3,000 to pay for Christmas wreaths to decorate the graves of fallen military, Benjamino was invited to participate in placing 250,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery.
Benjamino found the opportunity to be very moving,
“It was an experience, let’s just say — words can’t really describe it,” he said Monday, noting that there were thousands of others who also made the journey to ensure the nation’s fallen servicemen and women are not forgotten at the holidays.
“It was a very honorable experience,” he said. “I would say that it was just awe-inspiring. It hit very close to home. It was a shame to see that all of these people have died for our country, however it was very nice to see that everyone came out … and our country gives them the respect they deserve. There’s a monument for every single one of them.”
A cadet with the Forest Hill Military Army Cadet Corps in Kentucky, and as a person with veterans in his family, Benjamino said he understands the service and sacrifice made by Arlington’s fallen and encourages others to volunteer with Wreaths Across America.
“It was a really emotional and honorable experience,” he said.
While he is not entirely comfortable with the attention his gesture has received, Benjamino is committed to paying the fallen the respect due them.
“They need to be honored and they need to be remembered,” he said, describing the experience as a warm feeling that brings closure as the nation remembers that these servicemen and women sacrificed their lives for the rights all Americans enjoy.
His family and school community are just as honored by Benjamino’s fundraising effort on behalf of the Wreaths Across America cause.
“As Marc’s teacher, when I heard he was taking his time out to do this to recognize the men and women who dedicated their lives [to country], I just thought it was a must that he be recognized for this,” said Chris Googins, who is also WHRHS dean of students. “I know he’s probably upset about that, because he’s such a humble kid, but he’s an exceptional kid and he’s one of the best kids I’ve taught at W-H in my 20 years here.”
Googins said Benjamino’s passion for history helped spark his interest in the project.
Benjamino is taking an elective course on WWI, and is a member of the W-H History Club, which has also received a gift of about $500 from Wreaths Across America.
“I respect the fact that he is going above and beyond to make our community better and I’m proud to have him in class,” he said.
Founded in 1992 by the Worcester Wreath Co, the Wreaths Across America project aims to distribute holiday wreaths to graves of deceased soldiers at various cemeteries across the country, but focuses attention on Arlington.
The wreath-placing Dec. 17 followed a remembrance ceremony “so that we may pause to think about what these soldiers have given us and to remember them and honor them during this holiday season,” Benjamino wrote of the event before departing for it.
“He did this on his own,” Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak told the School Committee Dec. 14. “It wasn’t a school-funded thing. He did raise some money for the History Club, but [this is the] kind of social programs that we give back during the course of the day here. People don’t know it, but we have some wonderful, wonderful, wonderful kids here.”
Benjamino raised the $3,000 as an independent fundraiser for Wreaths Across America, going to parent-teacher conference night, Veterans Day parades and various companies and organizations to discuss the program and ask for wreath sponsorships.
He said Wreaths Across America welcomes anyone who wishes to help place wreaths, but the organization encourages fundraising first to help purchase the greenery.