"Until one has loved an animal a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~ Anatole France
When you combine a love of nation, and the mission to remember honor and teach with the love of an animal it creates a powerful force for good.
The soul of Wreaths Across America has been awakened with the arrival of Peter to his new forever home at Dun Dreamin Farm in Columbia Falls, Maine not far from the Wreaths Across America Headquarters.
Peter is a decorated veteran recently retired after fourteen years of service from the U.S. Army Caisson Platoon of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard) and was adopted by Karen and Morrill Worcester, executive director and founder (respectively) of Wreaths Across America. The adoption ceremony was at Fort Belvoir, Virginia on March 13, 2017.
"We are thrilled to be chosen as Peter's new home following his years of important service," Karen said. "As the newest member of our family, Peter will be an ambassador for Wreaths Across America."
The Old Guard is the official escort to the President of the United States and the nation’s premier memorial affairs and ceremonial unit.
“Our Caisson horses provide the final ride for our nation’s fallen heroes,” said Major Russell Fox, the Old Guard Public Affairs Officer. “We may be the only or last image a family member remembers as their loved one is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. It’s our duty to ensure the ceremony is conducted to the highest of standards. The full honor funeral the Caisson Platoon provides ensures that image.”
After years of Caisson service, a horse may be deemed unable to fulfill their military duties. Horses are then placed in the adoption process consisting of an application, a site visit and several rounds of voting. The Worcester’s have applied for adoption several times over the last few years.
As part of his distinguished service career, Peter performed six thousand funerals, received the Army Achievement Award from the Secretary of the Army, and performed as a flag bearer in President Barack Obama's second Inaugural ceremony. He finished his career with the Old Guard as the Second Horse for the White Team.
Peter stands 16.3 hands tall and was selected as a Caisson Platoon horse because of his color, size, focus, and behavior. Those who met Peter at his Open House on St. Patrick's Day were amazed at his size and docile temperament with one woman referring to him as a "gentle giant."
According to the Worcester family, Peter will become an important part of the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach.
"It was really hard because I couldn't hug her. As soon as she put her hand on the wreath, I started to cry, and I could tell she was starting to tear up."
In her keynote address, Karen Worcester thanked the UMA for the honor and shared a personal story of why Wreaths Across America does what it does. In a heartfelt and often tearful delivery, Karen told the story of Edith Knowles, a Gold Star Sister who lost her brother, Bud, during World War II.
I knew I had the contacts in the trucking industry," Barry explains of his initial involvement with the organization. "I just had to get people to believe in Wreaths Across America they way I did."
"She truly gets the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach and how important it is to our families but most importantly the families of those who have served."
"When you see thousands of volunteers flood through the gates to lay wreaths, it does help restore your faith in America and that our country has not lost its core value of appreciating the sacrifice of our soldiers and veterans and saluting them while teaching the next generation how important it is to remember."
Taya says the best way to show appreciation and respect for military families is through simple gestures like the one Wreaths Across America's founder Morrill Worcester made back in 1992 when he laid the first hand-made balsam fir remembrance wreath on the headstone of a fallen hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
Her parents, Vernon and Regina Garner represented the true American dream. They were a young entrepreneurial couple creating a business to share with future generations of their family. Garner Trucking started in 1960 with one truck and has grown to over one hundred trucks and four hundred trailers today.
"With the most gentle little kisses using the very tip of his tongue like a little butterfly he licked the tears off my cheek as if he was saying, 'Mom, I've got you, don't worry I'm right here with you."
“We didn’t understand the scope of the effort though until we attended the event. The energy and enthusiasm for WAA was mind-blowing and we left with great contacts and started to formulate a proposal right away for the executive team to consider getting involved with the mission.”
"I was very determined to survive the war. I never thought I would not survive. If I had allowed myself to think that I would have been done. My big goal was to revenge my past but not with bitterness and vengeance."
Jeff says a lot of drivers who work for Buchheit think it would be exciting to participate in the Wreaths Across America effort. They're right! However, hauling a truckload of America's respect is a privileged duty reserved for certain employees.
It seems fitting that on Earth Day this year Wreaths Across America will pay tribute to our nation's EOD Technicians in a Stem to Stone Tree-Tagging event on April 22 during which the names of over three hundred fallen service members will be said aloud as their replica dog tags are placed on the tip land in Maine.
Mike and Barbara are proud and patriotic Americans who understand the great personal sacrifices of our military families. They have also witnessed the powerful impact one fresh balsam fir wreath with a red bow has on the living. Mike gets choked up when he recalls one particular example.
"We're always conscientious about the carbon footprint we leave so we have to be sure the process is safe, efficient, and compliant with federal regulations," Debbie explains. "We want to make sure it's fuel efficient and a good run, that we've got the truck full, that a rested driver is ready to go, and all that plays into the coordination effort."
Nicole says she's thankful for those fellow Location Coordinators who have helped her and she's honored to provide the same support to those who might be thinking about starting a Wreaths Across America ceremony in their community cemetery.
It was inspiring last year when Jimmy and his wife Cathy realized their volunteer effort with Wreaths Across America was helping the organization grow and indeed making an impression on younger generations.
“The trucking community has been extremely dedicated to Wreaths Across America over the years, but support doesn’t come exclusively from drivers,” Karen Worcester explained. “Some of the most important contributions come from those behind the scenes, like Wendy.
Bill admits he too was "hooked" on the effort to remember, honor, and teach as soon as he saw a fresh, hand-made remembrance wreath laying against the headstone of a fallen hero over the holidays.