We call it the power of the wreath, and we stand back in awe as Americans across this nation and overseas embrace the mission to remember, honor and teach. The Arlington Wreath Project began over 25 years ago as one family's patriotic gesture of kindness. Today, it has grown into a national, year-round effort today known as Wreaths Across America.
The millions of volunteers who empower the organization and its growth all have different reasons for getting involved during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The one thing that unites every one of them is a sense of responsibility to "give back" and show gratitude for those who have answered the call of duty in service to our nation.
As Wreaths Across America counts down to National Wreath Day, Saturday, December 16, 2017, we are uplifted by the connections being made as people prepare for their ceremonies. One young volunteer in Pennsylvania is bringing her community together, and her efforts are remarkable.
Meet Amelia. She's a 12-year-old Girl Scout who loves horses, and she's a new location leader this year for Wreaths Across America. Any volunteer location leader can tell you that getting a ceremony started in your hometown is challenging, but rewarding, and it takes a team. Amelia has embraced the challenge, and she's exceeding everyone's expectations already laying the groundwork for next year's event before her first Wreaths Across America ceremony is held.
"She is a Cadet Girl Scout, and she finished her journey allowing her to work toward a Silver Award," Amelia's mother, Rhonda Fehr, explains. "She heard Mr. Yanek talk about how he participated in a Wreaths Across America event in another community in Pennsylvania and she said, 'I'd like to do that here.'" The Girl Scout's Silver Award is described by that organization as "an opportunity to do big things and make your community better in the process."
Rhonda goes on to explain the award requirements stipulated a one-time event would not qualify so Amelia decided to start a Veteran's Club at her school which meets twice a month. One of the club's responsibilities is to prepare for the Wreaths Across America event.
"Then she went to the Wreaths Across America website and printed everything off. She started a checklist, went down through it and told me she'd ask for help when she needed it."
Rhonda says she's experienced the "power of the wreath" watching people react to her daughter's presentations.
"Amelia was at an open house recruiting involvement with the club and the Wreaths Across America ceremony. One woman when she saw what Amelia was doing started to cry and left the area. I thought, oh no what have we done? The woman returned later to explain she had just lost her husband who had served in the military."
That service and sacrifice are not lost on Amelia.
"A lot of people in my family like my great grandparents died in a war and I didn't know them. A lot of other people in my family are now in the military, and I just want them to know that they're being remembered for what they're doing for us," Amelia shares.
Amelia has a special ceremony planned for National Wreaths Across America Day for the Holy Family Cemetery. She proudly runs down the itinerary.
"We'll have some guest speakers, and our chorus will come out and sing for us, and we're inviting a brass band to play. I have a friend who will sing the National Anthem for us too."
Amelia is pleased her efforts are supported by her school community, and her initial goal of sponsoring 100 wreaths has already been met and exceeded.
"I went to the school's PTO meeting and told them what I was doing, and the PTO people decided they would give us some money for veteran's wreaths."
Joe Yanek is the Principal at Nazareth Area Intermediate School, and he learned about Wreaths Across America by volunteering at wreath-laying events in a different community with his wife's company.
"I said we could do this and we have the capacity with our school to put this event together in our community," Joe explains. "The student council was a little slow in moving on it, and then Amelia stepped forward. I empowered her, and she took the risk and started in on the project. She's done an amazing job getting everyone involved who should be involved from our chorus to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. She's been persistent and focused. She's really quite something."
Joe says Amelia's efforts, combined with fundraising support from the school's student council and PTO, have made it possible to sponsor enough wreaths to honor 289 veterans laid to rest in Holy Family Cemetery.
"Some of the schools in the region have great programs for Veterans Day but we don't, and I thought this would be a great way to honor the veterans in our community and create a positive community connection for the school."
"I'm very proud of her," expressed Rhonda. "Amelia has had a lot of blocks in her life from day one. She came early, had a lot of medical issues, and is diagnosed on the Autism spectrum. She struggles in school and to see her come out of her shell gives me a lot of hope. Seeing her get passionate about something like this is what every Mom wants. To know that their child will fight to help other people because that's what's going to make the world a better place."
Wreaths Across America is proud of Amelia too and the leadership she has demonstrated in uniting her school and surrounding community to remember our fallen, honor those who serve and their families and teach younger generations the value of freedom.
Thank you, Amelia, Rhonda, Joe and the entire Nazareth Area Intermediate School community for your service!
In just a few days, Paulette and her fellow Troop Greeters will welcome veterans, Gold Star families, and other traveling dignitaries who are part of the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery.
Grand Marshals – Vietnam Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Roger Donlon, U.S. Army Special Forces (Retired) and his wife, Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife – will lead the caravan as it travels down the East Coast stopping at schools, memorials, and other locations along the way.
Driver Pat Wortham is an independent contractor for Dart Transit and a member of the Wreaths Across America honor fleet. He also has a rich history of military service in his family.
The holidays are traditionally celebrated with music so tune into WAA Radio throughout the holidays to hear musical Season's Greetings from some of the finest musicians in America!
"I was only 21 at the time, and we didn't know what we had come upon. The conditions were horrible, and there were all those people in striped pajamas."
"This contribution, like the one we made last year, will help provide an opportunity for professional drivers to transport wreaths across the United States.
Rhonda says she's experienced the "power of the wreath" watching people react to her daughter's presentations.
The telegram from the Department of War said that Albert and two other men had been shot down near Wollseifen, Germany, on Dec. 12, and that they had been missing since.
Yes! There's still time to sponsor a veterans' remembrance wreath in time for National Wreaths Across America Day.
"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.