The balsam fir trees in Columbia Falls, Maine are lovingly grown and nurtured by Wreaths Across America's founder Morrill Worcester.
Some folks may share a common misunderstanding about the hand-made, fresh balsam fir remembrance wreaths placed on headstones of our fallen veterans across the nation and overseas each December. The trees from which the balsam "tips" are harvested are not cut down, rather pruned through a process known as "tipping."
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.
Our nations EOD Warriors are tasked with explosive ordinance disposal making them the military's "bomb squad."
Executive Director for the EOD Warrior Foundation, Nicole Motsek, explains the evolution of the organization.
"The EOD Memorial Foundation and Scholarship program were created in the late nineteen sixties by some active duty EOD Warriors. In 2007, at the peak of the war in the Middle East EOD Warriors were coming back stateside almost weekly with serious, life-altering injuries, so the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation was set up to provide immediate and on-going support to those families. In 2013, they merged becoming the EOD Warrior Foundation increasing our capacity to serve the community at large."
According to Nicole that community of EOD Warriors which spans all branches of the military includes as many as seven thousand active duty personnel and twenty thousand veterans both men and women.
"Once they graduate the EOD Warrior School at Eglin AFB in Florida we support them and their families for life."
They also discovered Wreaths Across America when looking for ways to honor the memory of their fallen heroes while continuing to support their families.
"We started sponsoring wreaths to honor them and at what better time than during the holidays when people miss their loved ones the most."
To expand on their tribute, Nicole, her son Michael, and board member Kellie Perry are visiting with Wreaths Across America's events coordinator Lil Charron and outreach coordinator Kelly Hinkle prior to the Earth Day event for a tour of the Wreaths Across America Museum and tip land memorials.
The public is invited to attend the tree-tagging event on April 22 and show support for these heroes as Wreaths Across America dedicates a section of the land where replica dog tags will be placed. For those wishing to attend the morning events, a service will begin at 9:00 AM at the Balsam Valley Chapel off U.S. Route 1 in Jonesboro, Maine with the tree-tagging dedication ceremony to follow.
"We are grateful for this opportunity to partner with Wreaths Across America. This event is going to be a beautiful and touching ceremony to honor our 326 fallen EOD Warriors with a living memorial."
"This endless forest is a truly visual representation of our unwavering commitment to our mission to remember, honor and teach and to recognize our fallen soldiers and families this year and for many years to come," states Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America.
Any military families can have a tree tagged as a memorial to their loved one free of charge. You can find more information about the Stem to Stone Tree-Tagging program here:
As the only fully-integrated recycling provider in Central Texas, TDS joined in the effort to remember, honor and teach by donating their services.
All of the 30 Medal of Honor Recipients in attendance during the four days of events were glad to have a chance to meet Morrill and Karen.
The goal of the S.W.A.T. training is to create a core "support group" for location and fundraising volunteers with more experienced leaders joining the ranks every year.
"If you're an American, you're proud to do it. I know it's probably one of the best things I've done every year."
Mission Matters with Karen Worcester is a new program heard only on Wednesdays on Wreaths Across America Radio. Here's the schedule of the shows coming up and a link to the station.
Anyone who really knows me knows that I am often a walking Wreaths Across America billboard. They will normally see me sporting a WAA-branded sweatshirt or t-shirt, my blue and green WAA wristband and my ever-present WAA baseball cap. I’m proud of my connection with WAA and love to promote what we do and why we do it.
That being said, I want to relate a recent encounter I had while standing in line at our local Social Security Administration (SSA) Office the other day.
Air Force Veteran*, Wayne Merritt, currently manages the Veterans Transportation Program based out of Wreaths Across America Headquarters in Maine. Monday thru Friday, Wayne travels to area towns in the Downeast region to pick up veterans and bring them to their doctors’ appointments. This is just one of the many free programs Wreaths Across America offers to veterans and their families.
Military children worry about their parent’s safety very day. These children face many challenges, frequent moves and lengthy separation due to trainings and deployments. They take on more responsibilities and worry about their parent every day.
"I really don't see it stopping, and we want people to tell us where they see it. Take pictures and videos when you check it out and share them with us on social media."
Debbie says she and the transportation team are excited about new and more efficient systems that will be in place for 2018 and beyond.
To come up with an accurate wreath count for sponsorships, great effort was taken to assure no one was forgotten.
As we approached, Morrill and I began to realize that here laid the body of a very important veteran that we had apparently overlooked for the past 26 years in our annual wreath placement.
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.