Each December the wreaths are placed, and in January picked up again. Larry Ross, former school teacher in the Skowhegan School Department and well known to many Wreaths Across America readers for his contributions to our mission to Teach, shared the following story. It both puts things in perspective, and is the inspiration for the 2014 Wreaths Across America Theme.
Thirty year-old Mike McGreevey was killed aboard the helicopter during Operation Red WIngs, as depicted in the recent movie Lone Survivor. Thank you to Larry and his students for allowing us to share this story, to the McGreevy family, and to all our veterans and their families who sacrifice so much to protect our freedoms.
In 2006 I received a call from Patricia Mackin. She had heard I went to Arlington with a group of students and had called Morrill Worcester and asked for my contact information. Pat told me she would like to send me a batch of brownies so my students could have them when we were at the cemetery.
I said that was very kind but I had to ask if there was some special significance to the brownies and Arlington for her. She told me that her son, Michael McGreevy, was buried there and that she always sent him brownies wherever he was in the world. She always left him a brownie when she came to the cemetery and hoped we might think of him during our visit that December. I told her I thought it would be wonderful if she would come and join us instead, and we could all have a brownie together with Michael.
That December Pat, her daughter in law Laura and her granddaughter Molly joined my class at Michael’s stone. Laura told us of Mike’s personal creed; Walk humbly. Do justice. Love greatly. We all shared a brownie and Pat left one on Mike’s stone. We all noticed that the stone was stained brown from prior remembrances. We have been meeting Pat at Arlington since then.
In the fall of 2010 three of my students came to me and asked if they could play “Taps” at Arlington in December. I told them if their music teacher said they could play it well enough they could. One student, Sayre, was ready come December. On the day we arrived in Section 60 there were thousands of people in the area. When we got to Mike’s stone, Sayre’s dad approached me and told me that he didn’t think his son was going to be able to play; there were so many people stage fright had set in.
Dad thought maybe if I talked to him it might help. It was clear that the size of the crowd was very intimidating. I suggested that perhaps if he turned away from all the people and looked away from Mike’s stone and the crowd it would be better. With tears in his eyes he told me that he came here to play for the McGreevy family and if he could not look them in the eye when he did it he wasn’t going to play. I told him we needed a new plan then.
I firmly believe if you want young people to learn how to make good decisions you have to let them make decisions. Sayre thought for a minute and then turned to me and asked if I had my harmonica with me. I said I did. He asked if I would play with him. I said I would. I gave him one note and that was all he needed. Section 60 came to a halt.
When he was done one of his classmates came up to him and told Sayre he was just like another of the fallen we had studied, Sgt. Jeffery Kirk. His motto was “Don’t say I should have, say I did.”
I retired from teaching that year. While I thought my trips to Arlington with students were done that was not the case. Some parents whose children I would have had in December of 2011 invited me to come with their families to Arlington. Mike’s mom Pat is a traveling nurse who works all over the country. She was not going to be able to make it to Arlington and she was fretting about our tradition being broken. I told her not to worry, “we” would be there.
As I approached Mike’s stone that December I was surprised to see a couple standing there with what appeared to be a Tupperware container full of brownies. I approached them and said, “You must be friends of Mike McGreevy’s,” confident Pat had recruited someone to bring brownies. The gentlemen replied, “I don’t know Mike McGreevy but I know you.”
He told me his name was Scott and he proceeded to explain that he had been in Section 60 the year before. He had heard a young man play taps and had come over to hear what I was saying to the kids. He was amazed at what he witnessed but puzzled about how it came to pass. He said they left the cemetery that day wondering was it a totally spontaneous event or something they could participate in again.
They decided that one way or the other they would be there again next year….with brownies in case they were or were not alone. They had driven from New Jersey that morning.
Since then Scott and his wife and friends have come to Section 60 and joined us when we are there. This year we traveled from Maine for the cleanup in January rather than the placing of the wreaths in December. We gathered in Section 60 with Mike’s family, families from our town, Morrill and Karen and others from Wreaths Across America. It was wonderful to tell them that not only was Mike remembered today but Scott had been there in December to stop and have a brownie as well. His intent is to be there to remember and honor as long as he can.
And how did it happen? Many years ago Morrill Worcester responded with wonderment and awe to what he saw at Arlington and vowed to give something back. Many years after that Sayre sees that vow come to life and makes one himself to honor a family in his own way. By following through on his vow he passes that wonderment and awe along to Scott who shares it with his friends who now come with him to Arlington.
It does not matter what day we choose to remember, honor and teach. Whenever we do it, we are all the better for it. The important thing is not to say I should have, but to say I did.