At Wreaths Across America, we remember our fallen heroes, honor those who serve and their families, and teach younger generations the value of freedom. Veterans Day is acknowledged as a national holiday every November 11th since 1938. Wreaths Across America keeps veterans and their service to our nation near and dear to our hearts every day.
One of those individuals we cherish and respect is 92-year-old Charles Phinney of Milbridge, Maine a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He's a humble man who welcomes you into his home with a twinkle in his eye and warm, hearty laugh. He admits if you're a lady you'll get a big hug too.
Like so many veterans who have fought the enemy to liberate others from oppression and protect our freedom, Charles Phinney tucked the memories of what he did and endured during war deep inside himself and moved on to raise and provide for a family.
Wreaths Across America was honored earlier this year when Charles, his wife Madelyn and grandchildren Charemon and Rick Davis shared the story of his service, his commendations, and his opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. with Honor Flight of Maine.
In 1943, Charles knew when he reached his 18th birthday he'd be drafted into World War II, so he decided to enlist a few days before. His MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) out of basic training was searchlights. He and a buddy were ready to sign up to be paratroopers, but they had already been assigned to the 405th Regiment of the 102 Infantry Division also known as the Ozark Division and were sent to Germany.
The Ozark Division suffered heavy casualties enduring 173 days of constant contact with the enemy.
"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 up in a church. We had grenades on our hip belts, and the sniper hit a grenade, and it killed my buddy."
Despite the shock of seeing his friend blown apart on the battlefield, there was no time to process what he had just witnessed let alone to grieve. Charles managed to crawl over to a tank gunner to identify the location of the sniper. "They swung around, and with just one shot the top of the church came off."
Troops had to keep moving forward, and before long they were pinned down again by a German soldier with a machine gun. "I managed to get to where he was, and we had a little discussion. I came out on top, and that was the end of that. It's just something you had to do."
Among the many emblems for his gallantry, Charles has the Silver Star, the military's third highest personal decoration for valor in combat. The one he's most proud of however is his Combat Infantry Badge. He also received several others he didn't know he'd earned until his grandchildren tirelessly researched his service record. Those medals now hang in Charles' home.
It wasn't until Charles was called back into service in the Korean War that he got to use his skills setting up searchlights. "They'd be shooting at us a night, and we'd snap the lights on and there they were lined up like clay pigeons," Charles recalled with a chuckle. "That only lasted for about two months before they got some artillery in there. I had set my light up one night, and a shell came over, and all I had left were some cables. They knocked out so many lights after a while we couldn't use them anymore. Then they sent me back home."
Charles says his Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. to see the war memorials was one he'll never forget.
"We had five police escorts for our bus on the way in and it was quite interesting to see how one motorcycle cop would go ahead and hold the traffic at an intersection while we went through," Charles explained. "There were a couple of hundred school children at the World War II monument, and we were shaking their hands. That was quite something. I think the highlight of the trip though was when we were taken to Arlington to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier."
To top off his excitement, there was another surprise in store for Charles. The family arranged for a surprise visit to the hotel by two of his grandsons who live in the Virgina area.
As we approach Veterans Day 2017, Wreaths Across America wishes to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Charles Phinney and all those who have stepped up for uniformed service to our nation.
The many stops along the way at schools, veterans organizations, police and fire stations were also overflowing with love and good wishes.
I want my daughter to grow up understanding what true heroes are and the sacrifices that have been made for us to live in a free country.
Complete strangers just moments before, together, Denny and Ella read the name on her grandfather's headstone and talked some about him while laying his wreath.
"When she explained to us what Wreaths Across America is and does, it was a no-brainer for me that we would get involved."
On behalf of her father Rod, Cindi shared her grandfather's words with the audience during the memorial service. You can hear her presentation and see other highlights from the service in this video.
These two quiet and humble individuals are a team dedicated to giving back to their nation. They educate others by sharing their experiences and lessons of love and sacrifice not just from the war but the other "battlefields of life."
To better serve our volunteers in 2018 and beyond, we're reorganizing and providing more tools to support their inspiring efforts.
"I witnessed a few of the boys laying an "in honor of" wreath. They did it with reverence."
Guided by an infrangible faith when the supply of lifejackets ran out they gave up their own to save the lives of others.
"I went up to that hill and looked at all of those graves of my colleagues who have gone before me.
Volunteers planning to assist in removing wreaths are asked to attend a short briefing at the McClellan Gate at 8:30 a.m. and to follow these guidelines.
As witnessed through this video, the volunteer commitment of patriotic citizens is a year-round effort that culminates in a remarkable day of unity, friendship, and healing.
Some give the ultimate sacrifice of a loved one and are often left in sorrow to wonder if other citizens remember or appreciate what they gave up for liberty and justice for all.
Wreaths Across America knows some of the finest musicians out there are members of our military performance groups. Each month, we like to feature the musical works of those talented individuals.
Each live, balsam remembrance wreath is a gift of respect and appreciation, donated by a private citizen or organization and placed on the graves by volunteers as a small gesture of gratitude for the freedoms Americans enjoy.
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."