"We want Michael to be proud of us, and we know he'd want us just to keep pushing through no matter what," says Gold Star Mother Tammy Stansbery.
Tammy's son Michael L. Stansbery Jr. U.S. Army is buried in Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, and they reconnected on National Wreaths Across America Day 2016. Tammy and her husband, former Marine and professional driver Mike Stansbery of Tennessee had the honor of participating in a portion of the WAA Escort to Arlington as well as the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Uknown back in December.
Wreaths Across America met Mike back in 2015 when he picked up remembrance wreaths in Maine he was trucking to Fayetteville, Arkansas for J.B. Hunt.
As a Gold Star dad, Mike was given an opportunity to select a Family Tree among the balsam firs growing on the tip land in Washington County as part of the WAA Stem to Stone program. At that time, Mike said he was honored to be transporting his truckload of respect to another part of the country, but would one day like to be involved with the Arlington events considering his son is buried there. When Mike tagged the tree in honor of Michael Jr., he described his son's devotion to the country.
The Stanbery's exemplify the strength of character and courage that has built this country. Despite their personal sacrifice of their son in service to the nation and Tammy's battle with cancer, they continue to push through their grief and physical challenges to serve as volunteers honoring the lives and sacrifices of others.
Wreaths Across America is grateful and gives thanks for the service and commitment of proud Americans like the Stansbery's.
"It was really hard because I couldn't hug her. As soon as she put her hand on the wreath, I started to cry, and I could tell she was starting to tear up."
In her keynote address, Karen Worcester thanked the UMA for the honor and shared a personal story of why Wreaths Across America does what it does. In a heartfelt and often tearful delivery, Karen told the story of Edith Knowles, a Gold Star Sister who lost her brother, Bud, during World War II.
I knew I had the contacts in the trucking industry," Barry explains of his initial involvement with the organization. "I just had to get people to believe in Wreaths Across America they way I did."
"She truly gets the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach and how important it is to our families but most importantly the families of those who have served."
"When you see thousands of volunteers flood through the gates to lay wreaths, it does help restore your faith in America and that our country has not lost its core value of appreciating the sacrifice of our soldiers and veterans and saluting them while teaching the next generation how important it is to remember."
Taya says the best way to show appreciation and respect for military families is through simple gestures like the one Wreaths Across America's founder Morrill Worcester made back in 1992 when he laid the first hand-made balsam fir remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
Her parents, Vernon and Regina Garner represented the true American dream. They were a young entrepreneurial couple creating a business to share with future generations of their family. Garner Trucking started in 1960 with one truck and has grown to over one hundred trucks and four hundred trailers today.
"With the most gentle little kisses using the very tip of his tongue like a little butterfly he licked the tears off my cheek as if he was saying, 'Mom, I've got you, don't worry I'm right here with you."
“We didn’t understand the scope of the effort though until we attended the event. The energy and enthusiasm for WAA was mind-blowing and we left with great contacts and started to formulate a proposal right away for the executive team to consider getting involved with the mission.”
"I was very determined to survive the war. I never thought I would not survive. If I had allowed myself to think that I would have been done. My big goal was to revenge my past but not with bitterness and vengeance."
Jeff says a lot of drivers who work for Buchheit think it would be exciting to participate in the Wreaths Across America effort. They're right! However, hauling a truckload of America's respect is a privileged duty reserved for certain employees.
It seems fitting that on Earth Day this year Wreaths Across America will pay tribute to our nation's EOD Technicians in a Stem to Stone Tree-Tagging event on April 22 during which the names of over three hundred fallen service members will be said aloud as their replica dog tags are placed on the tip land in Maine.
Mike and Barbara are proud and patriotic Americans who understand the great personal sacrifices of our military families. They have also witnessed the powerful impact one fresh balsam fir wreath with a red bow has on the living. Mike gets choked up when he recalls one particular example.
"We're always conscientious about the carbon footprint we leave so we have to be sure the process is safe, efficient, and compliant with federal regulations," Debbie explains. "We want to make sure it's fuel efficient and a good run, that we've got the truck full, that a rested driver is ready to go, and all that plays into the coordination effort."
Nicole says she's thankful for those fellow Location Coordinators who have helped her and she's honored to provide the same support to those who might be thinking about starting a Wreaths Across America ceremony in their community cemetery.
It was inspiring last year when Jimmy and his wife Cathy realized their volunteer effort with Wreaths Across America was helping the organization grow and indeed making an impression on younger generations.