Wreaths Across America knows there's a story behind the name etched on every headstone honored on National Wreaths Across America Day in December. The same is true for the volunteers who carry out the mission to remember, honor and teach.
Christa Parker is a self-described military brat and went to high school in Germany. Her father, Victor Rose, served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot achieving the rank of CW5 before retirement. Her husband, MSG Christopher Parker, currently serves in the U.S. Army, so her motivation to support the military is evident. But it's the loss she and her family suffered that cemented her conviction to be sure no one is ever forgotten.
Her son PFC Garrett Parker, one of four children, signed up for the Infantry and completed his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia but his military service was cut short by a tragic motorcycle crash three years ago while on leave.
While her notion of "wreaths just falling from the sky onto veterans' graves in December" is a lovely thought, she has since come to understand those wreaths appear as the result of hundreds of thousands of hard-working volunteers and compassionate citizens who sponsor a wreath to remember and honor our fallen heroes.
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.
Christa and her family were stationed in Kansas when Garrett died but they had lived previously in Bridgeport, West Virginia for ten and a half years and he considered it home, so the family decided to have Garrett buried in West Virginia.
When she reached out to Wreaths Across America to sponsor a wreath for Garrett's grave she learned wreath-laying ceremonies were not limited to National cemeteries, so she decided to start one where Garrett was laid to rest. Christa and her husband are now stationed in Michigan, but she's the Location Coordinator and Team Leader for Bridgeport, WV.
In getting permission from the cemetery, Christa quickly realized a great deal of work lied ahead in her quest to keep the memory of her son, and the hundreds of other veterans with whom he shared this final resting place, alive.
"The cemetery office was in the process of updating their system, so they didn't know where all the veterans were buried," Christa explains. " My daughter and I walked every row and every section of that eighty-five acres and wrote down all of the veterans information, and that took about six or seven months. Then we sat down and read all of their obituary files on record and discovered more veterans who didn't have a military marker and that took us several more months. Now we're mapping out where they are so we can put markers down to identify them for wreaths."
Christa's daily efforts to remember, honor and teach best illustrate a year-long mindset and commitment to military veterans and their families, so no one is ever forgotten. She's not just researching the lives of fallen heroes, but she's regularly fundraising for Team Bridgeport to sponsor wreaths to cover over fifteen hundred veterans' headstones.
That's what prompted her to enter the Wreaths Across America FaceBook contest, "Pictures of Patriotism" in July. Christa's picture received the top number of votes, and she earned one hundred wreaths to help her honor one hundred veterans.
"It was tough for my family and me to put that picture out and have it shared over and over again because even though it's been three years, it seems like it was only yesterday," Christa shares. "I had a photographer at Garrett's funeral because I didn't want to forget and I really didn't remember much of that month at all from the moment military officials showed up at our door."
Acknowledging Christa Parker's family's proud heritage of service to our nation, their sacrifices, and courage is what powers the Wreaths Across America mission.
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.
Each live, balsam remembrance wreath is a gift of respect and appreciation, donated by a private citizen or organization and placed on the graves by volunteers as a small gesture of gratitude for the freedoms Americans enjoy.
In just a few days, Paulette and her fellow Troop Greeters will welcome veterans, Gold Star families, and other traveling dignitaries who are part of the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery.
Grand Marshals – Vietnam Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Roger Donlon, U.S. Army Special Forces (Retired) and his wife, Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife – will lead the caravan as it travels down the East Coast stopping at schools, memorials, and other locations along the way.
Driver Pat Wortham is an independent contractor for Dart Transit and a member of the Wreaths Across America honor fleet. He also has a rich history of military service in his family.
The holidays are traditionally celebrated with music so tune into WAA Radio throughout the holidays to hear musical Season's Greetings from some of the finest musicians in America!
"I was only 21 at the time, and we didn't know what we had come upon. The conditions were horrible, and there were all those people in striped pajamas."
"This contribution, like the one we made last year, will help provide an opportunity for professional drivers to transport wreaths across the United States.
Rhonda says she's experienced the "power of the wreath" watching people react to her daughter's presentations.
The telegram from the Department of War said that Albert and two other men had been shot down near Wollseifen, Germany, on Dec. 12, and that they had been missing since.