American flags in hand, more than 700 students and staff at Thorne Middle School lined the bus lane Wednesday morning to show their appreciation for service members this holiday season as the Wreaths Across America convoy arrived.
The national remembrance of U.S. service members departed from Maine on Sunday and made a stop at the Port Monmouth school as it heads toward Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. with some 500,000 wreaths in tow.
"It's amazing that they chose us as one of their stops on the way down," said Principal Thomas Olausen. "It's an incredible honor for our students, our community and we just couldn't be happier to have them here."
The school, home to the World War II Battle of the Bulge monument previously located at Fort Monmouth, is named for Cpl. Horace “Bud” Thorne, who was killed during that Dec. 1944 battle. Despite frigid temperatures, a convoy of state police from New Jersey and Maine, Patriot Riders motorcyclists, and tractor trailers received a warm welcome when they arrived at the school.
Thorne’s sisters were among those at the program, which honored all those who serve. Olausen said the ceremony at his school—the only in the state named for a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient—was fitting.
"The students are well aware of our history," he said. "This is part of what we do."
Leading up to the event, students were asked to contribute photos and histories of relatives and service members their families know. Those tributes lined the school’s hallway.
Students also were asked to donated $1 each. The generosity of the community resulted in a gift of $6,650 to Wreaths Across America, an organization whose motto is “remember, honor, teach.”
"It's a lesson about character, a lesson about courage, a lesson about how to conduct your life as an American," Olausen said in prepared remarks. "It's a lesson about five words that we still try instill in our students every day at Thorne Middle School-pride, respect, integrity, determination and excellence."
In preparation of the event, 800 flags were delivered to the school by leaders from VFW Post No. 2179 and American Legion Post No. 515. They visited Thorne with the delivery last week, and those flags were on display as the Wreaths Across America convoy pulled in.
Following the program at Thorne, the convoy will continue to Liberty State Park in Jersey City, its only other stop in New Jersey.
The journey to Washington D.C. will conclude on Saturday, Dec. 14, where thousands of volunteers will place wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in honor of service members, organizers said.
Maine First Lady Ann LePage, who is traveling to Arlington with the convoy on the back of a motorcycle, delivered brief remarks Wednesday and thanked service members for their sacrifices.
“Nothing unites us more as a country than the love for our service members,” she said. “Our fallen heroes were not Republicans, they were not Democrats, and they were not independents. They were Americans first and foremost. They were not from red states and they were not from blue states. They were from the United States of America.”