Marine Corps League volunteers left tributes at a Farmington memorial park

New group of veterans step up to restart group, hold annual remembrance ceremony

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – A group of volunteers laid wreaths on the graves of local veterans Dec. 17 as part of the local Marine Corps League’s first Wreaths Across America event.

The event at Memory Gardens of Farmington honored 109 local veterans. Live balsam wreaths were placed by 23 volunteers organized by the League.

Beau Harwood, the detachment commandant of the Marine Corps League Corporal Wilfred Eli Billey Detachment 736, shared photos from what he called the group’s “non-profit community service for our fallen brethren.”

The league is named for the late Navajo Code Talker Corporal Wilfred Eli Billey, a Farmington resident who was born in Sanostee and served with the U.S. Marines in the 297th Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division in the South Pacific Theater during World War II, the group’s website stated. He was a recipient of the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor. 

A wreath was laid at Memory Gardens of Farmington on Dec. 17 as part of the Wreaths Across America event that honored 109 local veterans.

“He was a well-known educator and principal. His students to this day say they never knew he was a Code Talker,” Harwood said via email. “How he kept the secret code from everyone.”

Harwood said the League was rechartered last year following a few years of dormancy as new members have stepped up to take over from a previous generation of veterans.

The group reconstituted on Nov. 20, 2021 as new leadership was sworn in by the organization’s state commandant.

“Attending the installation ceremony was the family of the late Navajo Code Talker, Marine Corps Corporal Wilfred Eli Billey,” the group’s website states. “During that ceremony, they granted permission to rename the detachment after their family hero.”

The group had its National Charter Signing ceremony on March 5, 2022 in the Farmington VFW Post 2182, where National Vice Commandant Russ Miller of the Rocky Mountain Division “officially swore in the newly installed charter.”

“Now we have a new era of Marines,” Harwood said on Dec. 28. He said there are 32 members so far, and membership is open to any military veteran who will uphold the mission and ideals of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The wreath-laying event is a national effort.

“National Wreaths Across America Day took place today at 3,702 participating locations across the country,” Wreaths Across America said in a news release. “Our nation’s heroes were remembered as each name was said aloud and honored as over two million volunteers, a third of whom were children, helped placed more than 2.7 million veterans’ wreaths on headstones of our fallen across the country."

The organization thanked its volunteers, from those who laid the wreaths to truck drivers, sponsors and others who made the nationwide event possible.

“Wreaths Across America believes the tradition represents a living memorial that honors veterans, active-duty military, and their families,” the news release stated. “When each wreath is placed the servicemember’s name is said out loud, ensuring their memory lives on.”

For more information, visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/NMMMGS.

For information on the Marine Corps League visit their website at https://www.mcl736.org, call 505-491-0252 or email office@mcl736.org to get in contact with the group. The League has monthly membership meetings at the Farmington Civic Center on every first Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.