The wreath placement at Soldiers National Cemetery has been cancelled. The current superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, Mr. Steven Sims has denied our permit to assemble in the cemetery. Since 2008, this application has been at best a formality and was not only granted by every superintendent since then but many took an active part in the ceremony that Mr. Sims now declares is a violation of an obscure section of his "operations manual".
The question must be asked; why Mr. Sims did you approve 100 nights of Taps as well as the Gettysburg College, First-Year Student Walk complete with a Gettysburg College Flag flying at the Rostrum, where by the way the Sgt. Mac Foundation has been denied permission to access.
When questioned by board member Stan Clark of Gettysburg, Mr. Sims gives vague responses such as; we take applications on a case by case basis or that Wreaths Across America can conduct their traditional events in 11 cemeteries controlled by the park service because they are a national organization. That, Mr. Sims is both arbitrary and discriminatory. In addition, Mr. Sims will not give us a written denial to our application and that is unacceptable. Stan Clark submitted our application in early September only to be told that the individual responsible would not be available to review the application until early October. Then we waited while it was under review and not until pressured did Mr. Sims finally meet with Stan and then deny the application on or about October....
The documents that follow are the attempts to persuade Mr. Sims as well as Stan Clark continuously asking Mr. Sims to cite chapter and verse in writing for his denial rather than emailing sections from "the manual" and leaving it to others to apply. The sections that cite authorized events also give the superintendent discretionary authority for grant permits for assembly. So, here it is Mr. Sims, why don't you want the Sgt. Mac Foundation to continue with it's annual event? Because I am beginning to take this personally. Perhaps it is because my beloved paternal grandmother was a Hatfield, was yours a McCoy?
The following is the letter recently sent to the Region 1 Director or Steven Sims' immediate superior, Ms. Gay Vietzke.
November 1, 2021
Ms. Gay Vietzke, Regional Director
National Park Service
1234 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Re: Mr. Steven Sims,
Gettysburg National Military Park
Dear Ms. Vietzke:
My name is John McColley, the following narrative is essential to understanding why and how Mr. Sims of GNMP and I arrived at this impasse a HISTORY lesson so to speak. For without history, where are we. To be clear there has never been any contact between Mr. Sims and myself.
For thirty years I was a Gettysburg resident and business owner with my wife Susan. We raised our two children Cheryl and Eric and after graduating from Gettysburg Highschool each entered the military. Cheryl served as a Nuclear Engineer aboard the USS Enterprise and Eric entered the U S Marines.
On February 17, 2006 my son, Eric, 23 was killed along with seven fellow Marines and two Airmen when 2 CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters collided in midair crashing into the Gulf of Ayden. Eric, an Iraq War Veteran, was part of Detachment Bravo, with his unit HMH-464 and was on deployment to the Horn of Africa when the accident occurred.
Beginning in November of 2006, when Christmas wreaths began to appear ay our local Giant Food Store, my wife Susan purchased one and we placed it at Eric’s headstone on our regular weekly (often more frequently) visits to Quantico National Cemetery from our home in Gettysburg. With each visit a new wreath was purchased and placed at Eric’s headstone. The existing wreath was then moved to a neighboring headstone. This process was repeated again and again until during a visit close to Christmas Susan commented how
few wreaths where on neighboring graves. I looked at her and said, “what are you going to do about it?”
Susan approached the floral manager at the Gettysburg Giant Food Store in Gettysburg and the late Christy Shively, the Floral Manager immediately donated 60 wreaths to the project. With a wink and a nod, she noted that if we waited until Christmas Eve, she would sell us all the remaining wreaths for $1.00 each. On Christmas Eve 2006 we went to Giant Food and learned Christy had 515 wreaths, so we purchased the remaining stock. On Christmas Morning 2006, we drove to Quantico National Cemetery and with the aid of family and close friends placed these wreaths in section 10 where Eric is interred and the National Wreath Project was born.
The following year, we established the SGT MAC Foundation and the National Wreath Project. In 2007, we placed 1,200 Wreaths on headstones at Quantico. Due to the generosity of many individuals, businesses, and other entities, we have been able to increase the number by at least 1,000 wreaths from then until present day.
In 2008, we placed 500 wreaths at Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, the following year, we placed 1,000 wreaths and in 2010 we placed 1,620 wreaths in the old section, one on each headstone. In 2011 Robert Kirby, the park superintendent gladly accepted our invitation and began the tradition of not only attending our Opening Ceremony but speaking to the 200 volunteers gathered at the rostrum for the placement.
The project continued to grow and each year with the superintendents blessing we gathered at the rostrum at 1:00 PM on the first Saturday in December, pausing to honor all veterans that served particularly those that sacrificed protecting our way of life.
The project was interrupted last year due to the pandemic. Gettysburg was essentially on lock down but we did manage to bring together a few volunteers at Quantico National Cemetery where we placed a wreath on every headstone in the first two rows throughout the cemetery.
I have in hand the authorization of Mr. James Sanders, Director of Quantico for this year’s placement. Our intention was to place a total of 16,000 wreaths this year, the traditional 1,620 at Soldiers National Cemetery and the remainder at Quantico.
Stan Clark, our resident board member and Director of Veteran Affairs for Adams County began the permit process in Gettysburg in September and what has historically been a formality has become a nightmare. Below is the Timeline:
September 9th application submitted
12th application fwd. to Pam Neil
17th Stan was admonished for traditional entry (although premature) on web site calendar
announcing placement at Gettysburg
October 4th Informed Pam Neil’s calendar is full and she will get to us in due time
5th Stan asked to have vehicle access added to permit even tough it was included on the
5th Pam almost there, relays Covid requirements
14th hint of problem from Sims, meeting set for following Thursday the 21st
21st following meeting and denial was final; 36 CFR 12.4 was forwarded as reasons for denial.
25th following Gettysburg Times article Sims informed Stan the issue had been
“Elevated for review”
26th Stan asked for meaning of being “elevated for review”
Mr. Sims, has been asked on several occasions (the most recent on 10/21/2021) to provide specific details regarding the denial in writing rather than cut and paste sections of 36 CFR 12.4. To this date 11/2/2021, letter of specific denial has yet to be received.
We are dismayed and dumbfounded by the decision made by Mr. Sims. His arguments are without merit, arbitrary, discriminatory and inequitable:
Wreaths Across America is allowed to conduct their entire in 11 cemeteries under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.
This past summer 100 Nights of Taps, conducted their program, often from the rostrum, for 100 consecutive nights
Gettysburg College conducted their Annual First-Year Student Walk which concluded at the rostrum with Gettysburg College Flag on display.
In conclusion, every year since the first placement in 2008 the Sg. Mac Foundation has conducted itself in an exemplary manner. We have required or requested absolutely nothing from the Park Service other than access. Each year has been completed without incident, we provide oversite at the Taneytown Road crossing, we inspect the cemetery on a daily basis to ensure the wreaths are in proper order and remove them at the designated time. All of this is at zero cost to the park service. We are a small, 100% volunteer 501 (c) (3) nonprofit with a small but eager group of volunteers. These people have been kept in “limbo” awaiting a decision that was never an issue in prior years or with prior superintendents. Have all his processors since 2008 been in violation of NPS established policy?
We acknowledge there are designated dates in the park service “Compendium” but also are fully aware that, the superintendent is given discretion as well. Therefore, we are asking for fair and equitable treatment in this matter as it is obvious that Mr. Sims is determined, for reasons known only to him, to deny our request.
Is it possible that because my beloved paternal grandmother was a Hatfield, who knows, maybe his was a McCoy? As ludicrous as that sounds, it is actually as feasible as any from my perspective.
John McColley, Director
Cc: U. S. Senators; Pat Toomey, Robert Casey, Richard Burr, Thom Tillis
U.S. Representatives; Gregory Murphy, James Joyce, James Comer, Dan Crenshaw
National Park Service; Shawn Benge, Steven Sims
Media; Gettysburg Times, Chambersburg Public Opinion, Hanover Evening Sun, Patriot News, York Dailey Record, Washington Times, Fox News
INDIVIDUALS TO CONTACT
Congressman John Joyce, District includes Gettysburg Washington DC 202-225-2431 Facebook
Congressman James Comer, R- KY House Committee on Oversight and Reform Washington DC 202-225-3115 Facebook
Michael T. Reynolds, NPS Acting Director, Washington, DC 202-354-2211 FAX: 202-371-2229
Shawn Benge, Deputy Director Operations Washington DC 202-208-6843
Gay Vietzke, Director Region 1 National Park Service Philadelphia 215-597-5814
Steven Sims, Superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, Steven_Sims@nps.gov,