National Wreaths Across America Day in December happens because of patriots like you who sponsor wreaths today to ensure no one is forgotten.
The handmade balsam fir wreath from Maine with its single red bow has come to symbolize patriotism, honor, and respect. The magic behind its circular shape and the fresh evergreen scent is its cathartic ability to unite and soothe. From stem to stone, the wreath you sponsor is a connection for the living that has a lasting and powerful impact on people's lives.
One of those very personal and intense connections happened last year between Angela Beason, a high school Math teacher in Central Arkansas, and a young student she'd never met. That student lost her stepdad during combat operations in Iraq.
"Through my husband's service and our involvement with the Arkansas Run for the Fallen we've done a lot over the past twenty years with Gold Star families but my teaching career and volunteer work never really intersected before," explained Angela. "On that first day of class I told the students a bit about myself, and I also talked about Tom Martin who graduated from Cabot High School where I teach. After class, a young lady by the name of Ariana Ramirez stayed behind and said she thought her stepdad was honored in the Run for the Fallen and I remembered her dad's name, Sgt. Alan Shaw. He served in the U.S. Army. From that point, Ariana and I developed a special bond. I learned she had lived previously with her Mom and Stepdad before he was KIA in 2007. She returned to Arkansas and had lost that connection with Gold Star families when she moved away from that military facility, so I invited her to attend other events throughout the year."
Ariana says the connection she has with Angela is a strong one for which she's grateful.
"My Mom used to be involved in Gold Star events, but when I moved I let all of that go and when I got to Cabot I didn't really have access to it because I didn't know where to go, "explains Ariana. "Mrs. Beason helped me connect and I've met other kids my age and have made some nice friendships. Because I'm a Gold Star child I get to do some cool things and get to meet great people. In fact, I met a World War II Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and I did a project on him. It means so much to me but I can't really explain it," says Ariana.
She shared some bittersweet memories that she could recall of times spent with her stepdad. Ariana was just seven years old when the Army notified them of his death.
"When we went swimming, I remember a tattoo of Superman on his arm and when we floated he let us carry him in the water instead of him carrying us, and that made us feel strong. Deployments were hard when he left, but it was so good when he got back," Ariana recalls. "We were excited to be able to have video chats on Skype with him, but my Mom always knew something was up when he didn't call in."
Angela got involved as a Wreaths Across America volunteer several years ago during one of her husband's deployments to Afghanistan. In 2016, Angela had the honor of participating in the annual wreath escort to Arlington, and it was during that visit that she once again made a connection happen for Ariana.
Ariana's stepdad, Sgt. Alan Shaw was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in 2007.
"I started walking toward Section 60 and reached Ariana through Facetime to give her an opportunity to see everything happening, and she walked with me every step of the way to her stepfather's grave. The wreath had already been placed, but I sat it up and fluffed up the ribbon while she had a chance to see it. It was such a special morning, and we both cried."
Ariana recalls the moment.
"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. After she hung up, I just cried because I was so happy someone actually showed me the wreath on his grave the day that it happened rather than with a picture later."
Before graduating this year, Ariana selected Angela for a Life Impact Diploma.
You can hear more from Angela and Ariana on Wreaths Across America Radio.
"We have a dedicated group of compassionate people who come together to help military veterans," Rebecca explains. "If someone reaches out to us and says 'hey we need help getting a veteran's roof shingled' then we try to get it done."
“Every year we have so many professional drivers, bikers, police officers and other first responders, ask us how they can get involved, even if they can’t transport wreaths,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America.
"There are a lot of similarities between the military and the trucking industry," Rob explains. "I think that's why you see a lot of veterans successful as truck drivers."
Johnny Vet: Freedom Isn’t Free is a dynamic and inspirational musical journey of the men and women who have fought the nation’s wars and how those same men and women, as veterans, have helped to shape the nation and its destiny.
"History can be studied in many ways, and it's important to do so for a contextual understanding of the journey taken by an individual, organization, or nation."
"It's heart-wrenching to see that and participate in that, Rick shares. "To see all the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles waiting there to have a wreath to place on their family member's headstone, there are just no words for it, none."
"We're just Moms who serve through the organization to make sure that our children's names and lives are not forgotten."
From our standpoint, it's a relatively small thing to do, and we're proud to be a part of the mission."
"With NFI managing the logistics, the sky is the limit. They will help make the entire operation more efficient,” said Debbie Sparks, Director Corporate Development and Community Relations, Wreaths Across America.
Luann started her volunteer efforts with Wreaths Across America in 2015 after hearing about it from a friend who was participating with her DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) group. She's working to sponsor wreaths to cover all of the known heroes laid to rest at Oaklawn.
"I always choose our drivers who are military veterans for these loads and they are proud and honored to have the opportunity to recognize our fallen heroes and their families."
In referencing the Wreaths Across America Stem to Stone Remembrance Tree program Roger spoke to the value and necessity of "planting seeds of patriotism" in younger generations.
Monica explains Maverick has a tremendous amount of pride hauling America's respect and not only do they assign the wreath loads to their drivers who are veterans but those drivers are some of the industry's best.
The September edition of the Military Musicians Showcase goes out to jazz lovers!
As Aaron Van Beek, Location Coordinator for Sioux Center, Iowa placed Chris Kyle's tag in Maine the announcement was made that the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and Wreaths Across America have agreed to collaborate with the support of their respective programs.
Helen told us about her brother, Ralph H. Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously following his heroic actions in Vietnam in 1968.
Yes. At Wreaths Across America, we've heard about the "Walmart Heart," and we're honored to be welcoming a group next month that has decided to combine their charity effort with their patriotism and respect.
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."