American pride, patriotism, and sense of duty run deep in members of our nation's armed forces. Those traits are shared by their families too, and during deployments, they must summon great strength and courage to mask their fears and insecurities about their service member's safety while keeping the home front functional. That's especially true when children make up the military family.
It's a tremendous burden and Wreaths Across America is passionate about supporting military families as we expand throughout the country the mission to remember our fallen, honor those who serve, and teach younger generations the value of freedom.
One woman who has joined the growing number of Wreaths Across America volunteers knows more than most about the sacrifices made by military families, and she's Taya Kyle author and executive director of the Chris Kyle Frogg Foundation.
"The whole concept of the wreath is for the living," Taya shares. "It tells families that their loved one's sacrifice was not for nothing. The people in this country get it, and they remember. It's not that while your loved one is serving people get it and thank you, but it's that they remember you lost him. They'll remember years from now that you lost someone precious to you, and it was for all of us. That's a really big deal."
The precious gift Taya and her two children lost for all of us was U.S. Navy SEAL, Chief Christopher Kyle, also known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. American Sniper, written in 2012 by Chris and American Wife authored by Taya in 2015 after his death gives the reader a raw and realistic insight into the pain, suffering, and readjustments they experienced as a military family.
Taya says supporting military families in your community can take on many different forms and it's important to remember they will rarely ask directly for help because by nature and training they're accustomed to serving others and don't want to be a burden.
"It's tough to suggest ideas because families and deployment scenarios are all different, but to give you an idea while Chris was deployed, my neighbor showed his support in a unique and thoughtful way. He couldn't afford to pay for separate lawn services, so he had his lawn care company do his house one week and then mine the next week. It was an incredible gesture, and he just did it because he knew if he had asked me I would have said no," Taya admits. "It's those little day-to-day life things that most family members are drowning in when their loved one is deployed."
Military families, like law enforcement personnel also experience, and process a whole host of emotions and challenges most civilians would never consider, and as a result often feel a sense of isolation. Since Chris's death, Taya has devoted her time and energy raising their two children and working with military and first responder families.
"The divorce rate when we were in was at ninety-seven percent," Taya explains. "Imagine that, among men and women who believe in honor, ability, service, and something bigger than themselves. That tells you there are obstacles facing these couples they're not prepared for in this job of fighting evil. There are reasons why your spouse may not want to tell you about his or her day; they've seen and experienced the worst-of-the-worst and don't want to bring that home. Chris and I had a strong bond, and we talked about everything, but there were things he didn't tell me because he didn't want me to worry the next time he went out."
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.
"Wreaths Across America and its supporters are showing the world that you love these service members and remember they were a cherished member of someone's family. It's powerful."
You can hear more from Taya Kyle on supporting military families and other inspirational stories for and about our veterans on WAA Radio.
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."
"We knew at the time it was inevitable he'd be deployed," Scott explains. "He was just a few days shy of being promoted to Sergeant when his Humvee hit an IED (improvised explosive device) in Iraq."
"I remember being in the cemetery years ago and seeing one section, it was the World War I section, near Fort Myer that was all covered in wreaths, and I was wondering who the heck put them there," Jari explains. "I know what struck me about it. It was an old section that no family members would be coming to visit."
"They have to learn and understand the history to know of all the people who have given their lives to make this country what it is today. We're honored and proud to be part of Wreaths Across America and we look forward to being part of the future."
Like any military maneuver, music performance requires individual excellence in a synchronized effort that requires discipline to achieve the desired goal.
They know they have come to serve those who served us by placing a remembrance wreath on their headstone while saying their name. Like Al, every volunteer we speak with says they come away from the day knowing they have contributed to something so much bigger than themselves.
"The statue now serves as inspiration for young people to say yes, the military is something that we should support because they come to rescue life. They don't always come to conquer the land and certainly not American soldiers. We don't go anywhere to conquer lands we go to help liberate people."
"As the saying goes we all gave some, but some gave all, and that resonates with me all the time," explains Vince. "This is our way of giving back and paying tribute to the fallen because those people are the heroes."
"We seem to be at a time in history when Americans are having a hard time agreeing on anything. We’re divided in so many ways. But at the heart of it, most of us can agree on one thing: We are Americans."
"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."