When I first heard about Wreaths Across America last year in late December after looking through my company’s Veteran’s Affinity Group, I thought, “what a wonderful way to pay tribute to everyone that has served in the Armed Forces.” Even though I missed the event for 2016, I vowed to volunteer in 2017. As a fellow United States Navy veteran, I felt compelled to do so in honor of all my brothers and sisters who died and are now laid to rest. After all, when I die, it would be nice to know that someone else will always pay tribute to me in a very special way. So on December 16, 2018 I volunteered at the Wreaths Across America event at Riverside National Cemetery.
It Started with One Man
One person is all it really takes to get a movement started. One person with a wonderful idea can do so much. In 1992, Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company had a surplus of wreaths at the end of the season. Instead of throwing them away, he remembered his childhood trip to Washington D.C. and the spark of patriotism that trip put in his heart and decided to donate his surplus to Arlington National Cemetery. But it didn’t stop there, he enlisted the help of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, individual volunteers and organizations, they provided and placed the live balsam wreaths in an older section of the cemetery because it was the less visited site. In 2005, after years of running the event quietly, it received much media attention after a picture of the headstones adorned with wreaths on a blanket of snow (below) started circulating.
From that point on, the event grew and grew each year with more volunteers signing up, more organizations pitching in, and more donations for wreaths from those wanting to pay tribute and honor our soldiers. Now the event is held in approximately 150 different locations all over the USA.
Honoring those that Served
If you don’t know what Wreaths Across America is, it is a one-day event that takes place at exactly the same time all over the USA at National Cemeteries everywhere. It is a special time to reflect on the past, honor those that have served and fallen, and teach our children the price of freedom. From the website:
“A person dies twice: Once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken.”
The biggest event takes place at Arlington National Cemetery and this year they were able to cover all the graves there. I participated in the ceremony held at Riverside National Cemetery. It was a beautiful ceremony that lasted about 1 hour with military personal representatives from each branch of service. The color guard ceremoniously presented the state and national flags and a group of Gold Star Mothers (parents/spouses of those that have served or died in service) were also present and a bell was rang in honor of each of their husbands/loved ones that have served and have since passed. A bag pipe played as well as two trumpets, the honorary song “Taps.” A 6- gun salute followed with 3 volley of shots.
Each live balsam placed on a grave was donated by someone that cared. While some were donated for specific graves, many were laid on any grave of choice (except those bearing the Star of David). Children accompanied their parents bearing wreaths and together they paid tribute to those laid to rest. The crowd of people that came to honor those buried here were several hundred in number. My take from the event is that I would volunteer again next year and bring my children. I believe that it is important for our children to grow up with a love for their country (even though I agree it is not perfect), a respect for those that choose to give their life for our freedom, and what freedom really means and why we should hold it sacred.
If you are interested in donating your time or giving as little as $15 to place a wreath for next year’s Wreaths Across America event, you can visit their website to do so. There’s also links for those interested in starting their own fundraiser event and other ways you can help remember those that have served in the Armed Forces. You can search for a cemetery in your area that will hold the ceremony as well or add a new one. There is also a mailing list you can join and receive a nice newsletter throughout the year with articles that highlight different service members and keep you informed of the organization’s progress and goals for the year.
Note: I was not paid to attend the event nor was I paid in any way for this blog post or my views. My attendance was my choice alone and my views on patriotism, love of country, and my past service in the United States Navy are not influenced by anyone else.