Music transcends barriers of communication and for centuries has been a unifying force capable of expressing common emotion and sentiment when words fail or are impossible to speak. Music has also been an integral part of our military history. Battlefield command signals rose up from the fife and drum. Military bands add pomp and circumstance to special events, and a Bugler sounds Taps for funerals and memorial services. In times of conflict and war, from concentration camps to foxholes, music has provided solace and kept humanity intact.
Indeed it was the joyous voices of children singing on a snowy morning in December last year at Kennebunk High School during the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery that gave rise to the 2017 Wreaths Across America theme, "I'm an American. Yes I Am!"
“Though it was a snow day for the school, many children still came in to greet us and perform for the escort,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America. “As part of their performance, the children sang ‘I’m an American…YES, I am!’ and every single person standing in that auditorium couldn’t help but sing along, cheering and watching in awe as these children beamed with pride. That is what being an American is all about.”
The song, which entwines patriotism and acceptance of differences together, became a favorite of the 2016 Wreaths Across America escort, which included many American Gold Star Mothers, Blue Star families, veterans, and volunteers. The group was touched and inspired by the spirited performance. After their visit, the escort participants found themselves singing the words often throughout their week-long trip down the east coast to Arlington National Cemetery.
Rick Charette wrote, “I’m an American” in 2002 to help kids appreciate the sacrifices women and men have made in protecting the American freedoms that we all enjoy. The inspiration for the song came from his personal feelings on what it means to be American. A former teacher turned singer/songwriter; Charette has been writing and performing for children for the last 30 years.
The patriotism and American pride displayed by the Kennebunk Elementary School (KES) Kid's Chorus were genuine according to school Principal Ryan Quinn, and we only saw a small representation of the group during the visit because of the weather. There are normally 80 students in the group.
"We as a staff believe it's very important to teach about patriotism," Quinn explains. "Each month we have a character trait that we introduce to the students, like courage and honor, and then reinforce those meanings throughout the month. It's important to teach positive values and patriotism is one of them. In the past the kids have sold their artwork and raised money to send five World War II Veterans on the Honor Flight trip, we've sent 500 scarves to soldiers deployed in cold climates throughout the world through Operation Gratitude, and the stop by Wreaths Across America added to the list of wonderful patriotic events for our students."
Wreaths Across America is honored to unite proud and patriotic Americans throughout the nation in our mission to remember, honor, and teach to be sure no hero is ever forgotten.
“I’m an American” by Rick Charette
I’m an American. Yes, I am.
I love my country. I love my land.
With you and me together, we each play a part.
We can make a difference with love in our hearts.
We are many. We are one.
We are shining in the sun.
We’re united standing tall.
With liberty and justice for all.
I’m an American. Yes, I am.
I hold the world’s future here in my hands.
Gonna sing and shout it! It’s great to be free.
Every single person has dignity.
I’m an American. Yes, I am.
I promise that I will do what I can.
I’ll stand up for freedom. Live my life without fear
Going to make a better world, I know we’ll persevere.
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.
One highlight from this year's performance came when Six-String Soldiers invited children of all ages to the stage to sing along with them, the Rick Charrette song, I'm An American! It echoed through the valley where replica dog tags of fallen heroes hang among the balsam fir trees' tips that will be used to make veterans remembrance wreaths.
"Rain, snow, or sunshine as you know these guys walk the walk, so we're here to dedicate this section of the tip land to the Old Guard," proclaims Wayne Hanson, Chairman of the Board for Wreaths Across America. "We certainly appreciate everything they do for us."
It was, in fact, a competitor of Abilene Motor Express who reached out to them to tell them about Wreaths Across America and Will says once the owners, Keith and Kolen Jones heard about the effort they were one hundred percent behind it right away.
Especially meaningful is the location of the Grove, which is adjacent to the soon-to-be-opened Medal of Honor Remembrance Park. From this vantage point, The Old Guard will continue to stand watch over America’s fallen heroes.
Kevin says driving Armellini's load of wreaths in the escort to VA National Cemetery in Lake Worth along with the Walmart trucks is a meaningful experience for him emotionally because of honoring veterans, but he says there's also a more physical kind of excitement as a professional driver.
Starting at the end of this month, as we countdown to Wreath Day, we would like to invite you to appear on our national webcast/webinar series to tell us about the local veterans buried in your community. We will also run your interview on WAA Radio and share on social media and in the newsletter.
"If we don't teach this younger generation that freedom is not free they're going to forget and not understand the sacrifice made by these men and women who keep us free and safe. I don't know where this country would be if not for the brave people who step up and volunteer to serve in our military. It's really scary to think of where we'd be without a powerful military."
Thinking about Christmas during July provides us with the perfect opportunity to encourage others to get involved with our mission by sharing the stories of their hometown heroes while explaining, however, to those not familiar we're not "decorating graves."
We are humbled by the hundreds of thousands of people who get involved every year on National Wreaths Across America Day at Arlington National Cemetery and at over twelve hundred participating cemeteries in paying tribute to our veterans. One of those passionate and dedicated individuals is Ellen O'Neil Fuller.
Not only does Wade Gunter place a remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen service member at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), he says their name aloud when he props it against the stone. It's what Wade does next that takes the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach to a higher level.
"We're very fortunate to find carriers, veterans, and non-veterans that want to participate in the program. We get drivers every year who call us to get involved."
From the white wigs to the tailored red coats every aspect of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is designed with history and field music in mind. The unit was formed in 1960 and according to SFC Martin was originally made up of non-musician infantrymen, harkening back to the field musicians of the Continental Army.
"When it comes to Wreaths Across America, we don't do what we do for the applause of men; we do it because of how important it is to the Gold Star families we've connected with over the years."