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.
"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.