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.
"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."
"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.
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."
"It doesn't all happen in Arlington. It's all across the country, and perhaps you could start your involvement in your hometown and involve your family so people can see just how important trucking is to the mission.
"It makes these drivers feel good about themselves, it makes them feel good about their companies, it makes them feel good about their country and being Americans. They're so proud and when you've got all those things working in the same direction that's a win-win for everybody."