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.
"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."