At Wreaths Across America, we're often asked, "How do you honor over a million veterans and their families during the holidays?" Our answer is always, "It's our volunteers who drive the mission and build the organization."
The Wreaths Across America family of volunteers throughout the nation and overseas represent a grassroots effort fueled by patriotism and respect for those who have served our nation past and present. These volunteers work every year to express their gratitude by raising funds to sponsor fresh, hand-made balsam fir remembrance wreaths.
The power of the circular wreath with a single red bow unites people in a common cause to remember, honor, and teach.
Rebecca Turcotte is a member of the Patriot Riders of America, Chapter 3 located in Maine. The group's Facebook page describes their club's mission (in part). "Patriot Riders of America major functions are to help all American Veterans; people in our communities; encourage rider participation in events, and to promote motorcycle safety. We support the Constitution of the United States and the right to freedom." Membership is made up of veterans, non-veterans, women, men, and junior members as well. While the group consists of motorcycle enthusiasts, it's open to anyone "caged" as well.
"We have a dedicated group of compassionate people who come together to help military veterans," Rebecca explains. "If someone reaches out to us and says 'hey we need help getting a veteran's roof shingled' then we try to get it done. We're just a volunteer group that works from our hearts but we all have different skills, and we try to put them to use as a team. I'm very proud of this group and what we've been able to do to support veterans, and if we can't, we help them find an organization that can assist."
Some of the chapter's other efforts have been to build a ramp for a World War II veteran's home, and they support the Summit Project in Maine as well.
Rebecca's love and respect for the military come naturally through her families service and sacrifices. Her husband Jim served in the Air Force, her father, Harold Pitman, served in World War II and her brother, Gilbert Bell, Jr. served in the United States Army and was killed in Vietnam in 1968 when she was a young girl.
Rebecca and fellow members of the chapter recently visited the Wreaths Across America Museum and Headquarters in Columbia Falls, Maine. A tour of the tip land allowed them to visit the dedicated section of the Patriot Riders of America and the other monuments while placing replica dog tags for some of their fallen heroes as part of the Stem to Stone program.
"It was the most memorable thing for me, and I'll never forget that experience for the rest of my life. We didn't realize there was a museum and tree-tagging program, so we want to spread the awareness."
Rebecca shares some of the photos from their visit.
"We've always supported Wreaths Across America every December and have been there to place the wreaths," Becky proudly states. "We have donation cans out, and we place them in area businesses. One of our members, Stephanie Lizzotte, numbers the cans and keeps track of them every month and carefully logs the money and so forth."
The chapter raises money to cover veteran's headstones at cemeteries in Augusta, Maine. "We discovered there just aren't enough wreaths to cover all the veterans grave sites."
"I believe, and I know the group does too that we are one country. These men and women fought for us and in some instances laid down their lives for us. Everyone should ask themselves what can we do for their families. We all have family members who have served, and this is our way to show them love and respect."
The Countdown to Wreath Day 2017 is on, and we're sharing the stories of our volunteers like Rebecca and the Patriot Riders of America as they work tirelessly to remember, honor, and teach.
"We were replacements," explained Charles. "My best friend Luke Moore and I went over together. He was a First scout, and I was a Second scout. We were taking a town when we were shot at by a sniper..."
Wreaths Across America is forever grateful for the thousands of volunteers who place veterans' remembrance wreaths on the headstones of our fallen as they say their names aloud every December. Remember, we are guests on the hallowed grounds of participating cemeteries and we ask that you honor their rules and regulations. If you're volunteering at Arlington this year, here's what you need to know.
Wreaths Across America announces open loads available as the Honor Fleet expands to transport America's Respect.
"I remember back then when we were told several times Vincent wouldn't make it through the night and I went to the chapel and said, 'God is there anything I can do to change your mind? He's our only son."
"One thing I will never forget is getting into Arlington and it was a cold, rainy day with freezing rain, and I remember looking around at all the empty headstones thinking to myself oh my God how are we going to do this."
"As part of our Wreaths Across America project, we work with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Explorers, Young Marines, and sometimes 4H members," Mike explains. "We try to engage our groups the way that I think the founder of Wreaths Across America intended."
The Civil Air Patrol Cadets meant the world to Rick. For three years he accompanied cadets to Arlington National Cemetery and assisted with laying wreaths at the cemetery. This trip changed the lives of many cadets.
"It was so moving coming down I95 because people were waving flags, honking their horns, giving us thumbs up, and saluting us."
"We have a dedicated group of compassionate people who come together to help military veterans," Rebecca explains. "If someone reaches out to us and says 'hey we need help getting a veteran's roof shingled' then we try to get it done."
“Every year we have so many professional drivers, bikers, police officers and other first responders, ask us how they can get involved, even if they can’t transport wreaths,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America.
"There are a lot of similarities between the military and the trucking industry," Rob explains. "I think that's why you see a lot of veterans successful as truck drivers."
Johnny Vet: Freedom Isn’t Free is a dynamic and inspirational musical journey of the men and women who have fought the nation’s wars and how those same men and women, as veterans, have helped to shape the nation and its destiny.
"History can be studied in many ways, and it's important to do so for a contextual understanding of the journey taken by an individual, organization, or nation."
"It's heart-wrenching to see that and participate in that, Rick shares. "To see all the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles waiting there to have a wreath to place on their family member's headstone, there are just no words for it, none."
"We're just Moms who serve through the organization to make sure that our children's names and lives are not forgotten."
From our standpoint, it's a relatively small thing to do, and we're proud to be a part of the mission."
"With NFI managing the logistics, the sky is the limit. They will help make the entire operation more efficient,” said Debbie Sparks, Director Corporate Development and Community Relations, Wreaths Across America.
Luann started her volunteer efforts with Wreaths Across America in 2015 after hearing about it from a friend who was participating with her DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) group. She's working to sponsor wreaths to cover all of the known heroes laid to rest at Oaklawn.
"I always choose our drivers who are military veterans for these loads and they are proud and honored to have the opportunity to recognize our fallen heroes and their families."
In referencing the Wreaths Across America Stem to Stone Remembrance Tree program Roger spoke to the value and necessity of "planting seeds of patriotism" in younger generations.
Monica explains Maverick has a tremendous amount of pride hauling America's respect and not only do they assign the wreath loads to their drivers who are veterans but those drivers are some of the industry's best.
The September edition of the Military Musicians Showcase goes out to jazz lovers!
As Aaron Van Beek, Location Coordinator for Sioux Center, Iowa placed Chris Kyle's tag in Maine the announcement was made that the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and Wreaths Across America have agreed to collaborate with the support of their respective programs.
Helen told us about her brother, Ralph H. Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously following his heroic actions in Vietnam in 1968.
Yes. At Wreaths Across America, we've heard about the "Walmart Heart," and we're honored to be welcoming a group next month that has decided to combine their charity effort with their patriotism and respect.
Brandon says last year spending time at Arlington National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day with fellow employees of Cowan Systems, Inc. was an educational and humbling experience.
"It's been a dream of mine to go back to Arlington with my Mom to be a part of National Wreaths Across America Day to place remembrance wreaths on my grandparents' graves."
According to Gretchen CFI went above and beyond two years ago when they helped make her dream come true.
"When we did that project we had one hundred and thirty-five of our employees at that time who had served in the military and that's a big percentage of employees for one company. We think that it's important to recognize their service."
Christa Parker's love for her son, country, and volunteerism with Wreaths Across America knows no boundaries, quite literally. Her volunteer efforts frequently have her crossing states lines and her stamina and organizational efforts are an inspiration to all.
When asked if he could describe the power of the veterans' remembrance wreath he admitted it was a challenge to put into words, yet hesitated only for a moment.