Wreaths Across America Honors and Remembers Veterans at Christmas
If you've never heard of Wreaths Across America, you're not alone. I didn't know about it either until one November day in 2012. By the time you finish reading this article, you'll know a lot about them, who they are, what they do, and how they encourage the teaching of patriotism to our citizens, especially our youth. You may even find it in your heart to volunteer or sponsor a wreath in the future.
In November 2012, my children and I attended a Veteran's Day celebration celebrating our armed forces through all the generations as far back as the Revolutionary War. As we walked around talking to the soldier re-enactors, I came across a table set up by the Patriot Guard Riders to share information about Wreaths Across America.
I was very familiar with the Patriot Guard Riders as a few years prior they led the procession and stood by in honor and support of my son's cousin, Sgt. Bryan Tutten, who was killed Christmas Day in Iraq in 2007 by an IED. Anything that the Patriot Guard Riders were supporting was certainly worth checking out and I'm so glad that I did.
What is Wreaths Across America?
Wreaths Across America began at Arlington National Cemetery by a Maine businessman, Morrill Worcester, in 1992. Morrill was the owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington Maine, and in 1992, after many memorable trips during child- and adult-hood to Washington DC and Arlington National Cemetery, the Worcester Wreath Company found they had a surplus of wreaths and made plans to place these wreaths upon graves in the older section at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Throughout the years, the efforts continue and gained momentum with many people volunteering until 2005 when it gained national attention and requests to help poured in. Since then, it continued to grow and now extends to over 600 National Cemeteries in all 50 states across the United States and beyond.
The wreaths placed are all sponsored by individuals, families, businesses, and organizations. It is truly a volunteer organization which relies on wreath sponsorship, volunteer truckers, volunteers to set up for the wreath laying, and those to lay the wreaths.
In fact, the annual convoy that takes the wreaths from Maine to Arlington has become known as “Veterans Honor Parade” as they stop along the way to bring awareness to "remember, honor, and teach" which is their mission.
Their mission is to not only honor and remember, but to teach about Patriotism. It is incredibly important to teach our children about the sacrifices that are made to protect the freedoms that we have. Getting your family, including your children, involved in something like this is a wonderful way to educate them and help them understand patriotism.
In 2012, the Wreaths Across America laying of the wreaths took place on December 15th across the nation.
"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
- Ronald Regan
40th president of US (1911 - 2004)
Our Incredible Volunteering Experience
In the early morning of December 15, 2012, volunteer truckers and escorts, including the Patriot Guard Riders, escorted the trucks carrying the wreaths from their staging location to the national cemeteries where volunteers waited to offload the boxes of wreaths. This was taking place on this date at every location where wreaths were being placed.
Our local national cemetery is the Jacksonville National Cemetery which is relatively new, having had their first interment in January 2009.
People of all walks of life - bikers, retired veterans, scout groups, church groups, young and old - helped to offload the boxes of wreaths, while some, like my kids and I, walked the rows of graves counting individual markers informing the count to more volunteers who were placing the wreaths on the ground in front of the row of graves. It was so amazing to see so many people volunteering and honoring those buried here.
Neatly in front of each row of graves, the exact number of wreaths were gently layered in long rows in perfect alignment with the graves, complimenting the precise uniformity that national cemeteries have.
With about an hour to go prior to the beginning of the dedication ceremony, we took some time to walk the graves, look at the names on the markers, talked to the Patriot Guard Riders, and watched the family members who were overwhelmed with seeing the wreaths. Church buses brought some families in, and others transported older family members from parking to the ceremony area.
Thousands of people were present for the cemetery, families and loved ones of those buried there, as well as the hundreds of volunteers. A tribute to all of the branches of service was made by the presentation of a single wreath for each branch as well as one for the POW/MIAs that have never made it home.
At noon, at every Wreaths Across America dedication in the US, a 1 minute moment of silence took place to remember those who have served and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was incredibly powerful to know that for an entire moment, millions of people were remembering.
It was another powerful moment when it was announced that somewhere on this day - here or in Arlington or at one of the other several hundred national cemeteries, that the 1,000,000th wreath would be placed. How incredible is that? And through the donations from so many, every grave at the Jacksonville National Cemetery received a wreath.
Before the conclusion of the ceremony, those of us who were volunteering returned to the rows of wreaths to hand out and to assist the family members placing wreaths on their loved ones' graves. For those whose family could not attend, the volunteers, including my kids and I, placed the wreaths and for each one, my children wrote down the name on the grave we placed the wreaths so we could return home and learn more about that person. On each and every wreath, which are still all handmade at the Worcester Wreath Company, a special tag was attached that said, "Today, I placed a Wreath on the Grave of an American Hero...".
Once all graves had a wreath placed, the sea of white transformed into a beautiful sea of green and red against the background of the white stones. A 21-gun salute followed by taps by a single bugler closed the ceremony.
If you can only imagine the tears, not only of sadness of missing their family member, but of joy for the incredible recognition and honor and remembrance of their loved one, it was completely overwhelming leaving many of us volunteers grabbing tissues from our pockets. It was a day that truly impacted us and I can sincerely say that my efforts to raise money and to bring awareness over the upcoming years will be even greater.
If this article has touched you in any way, perhaps you'll consider sharing this with your family and friends so that we can continue to honor those who served knowing that freedom is something worth protecting.
Content and photographs © 2012 by Keely Deuschle. All rights reserved.