From Wreaths Across America's Executive Director, Karen Worcester
Like many holidays, the meaning of Memorial Day has become a bit vague. Just as Santa Claus and gift giving now define Christmas, Memorial Day is better known for family barbecues than for visiting cemeteries. Maybe this is because people would rather focus on happier subjects, especially as the warm weather beckons. That’s understandable. However, the military families we support have impressed upon me how important it is to remember what Memorial Day is really about: honoring those who have lost their lives while serving our country.
The holiday itself is quite old, by American standards. It actually dates to the post-Civil War era, when death had touched every community, north, and south. As a way to remember and honor soldiers on both sides who had died during the war, “Decoration Day” was established. On this day, people brought flowers and flags to their local cemeteries to decorate the gravestones of fallen soldiers.
Later, the name of the holiday was changed to Memorial Day and it was expanded to include Americans who died in any war, not just the Civil War. Unlike Veterans Day, which honors everyone, living or dead, who has served in the armed forces, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, specifically to honor those who have fought and died in a war or conflict – those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
We believe that to truly honor our lost veterans, we must remember them as people – not as numbers or political fodder, and in a way more meaningful than sharing a post on Facebook. Real people gave their lives – for us – and this can be easy to forget. In fact, a poll in 2000 showed that only 28 percent of Americans knew what Memorial Day was for (other than being the unofficial start of summer). In response, Congress established the National Moment of Remembrance to be observed at 3 p.m. local time every Memorial Day as an act of national unity. Will you take one moment this Memorial Day to reflect on the sacrifices these brave men and women have made?
If you’d like to do more, nearly every community has a veterans’ cemetery nearby. Why not pay your respects in person? Some people bring flowers, or flags, or other mementos. But you don’t need to. One simple thing we do when we lay wreaths on graves on Wreaths Across America Day each December is to say the name of the veteran out loud. It’s been said that a person dies twice: once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken. By saying their name aloud, we keep their memory alive.
Many groups such as the American Gold Star Mothers, who have lost a child in service to their country, the American Legion, or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) host Memorial Day events to honor fallen veterans. By attending these, you show your gratitude and support for our veterans. By meeting the families and friends of those who have died, you can start to understand the true nature of the sacrifices that have been made by both military and the ones who loved them.
Another way to spend the day meaningfully is to explore history. Remember, Memorial Day honors military from all wars, so learning about the past is a way to honor veterans of previous generations. You could visit a memorial, a museum or a battlefield to learn about the veterans from wars throughout our nation’s history. By the way, you don’t need to visit Washington, D.C., to find a war memorial. There’s likely one right in your community that perhaps you didn’t even know was there.
Finally, if you know of a family who has lost someone, please say a kind word and let them know that you remember their spouse, child, sibling, parent or friend. It can mean a great deal to them just to talk with someone who remembers their loved one’s life, as well as their death.
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. This Memorial Day, let’s honor those who have given their lives for the country we all love, and who have made it possible for us to live freely and peacefully together – no matter our faith, our politics or our backgrounds.
Wreaths Across America announced that its Executive Director Karen Worcester and Founder Morrill Worcester were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Patriot Award, the highest award the Society can bestow to an individual.
I was a Navy spouse for 12 years and during that time we lost over two dozen of our closest friends. Most of whom are buried at Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.
Photo Contest Winners Announced
Wreaths Across America chose the 2018 Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, KY, from March 22-24 to debut its newly designed Traveling Education Exhibit. This 48-foot display trailer hooked to its Chevy truck was loaded with many “hands on” technology and interactive information about the program to help visitors learn about the mission to Remember, Honor, and Teach.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Wayne Hanson was honored to be one of the Wreaths Across America team accompanying the exhibit, where one of the more memorable things he had the pleasure of doing was to say two words to some of those present…”Welcome Home!”
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.