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:
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.