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.
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.
Yes! There's still time to sponsor a veterans' remembrance wreath in time for National Wreaths Across America Day.
"We were replacements," explained Charles. "My best friend Luke Moore and I went over together. He was a First scout, and I was a Second scout. We were taking a town when we were shot at by a sniper..."
Wreaths Across America is forever grateful for the thousands of volunteers who place veterans' remembrance wreaths on the headstones of our fallen as they say their names aloud every December. Remember, we are guests on the hallowed grounds of participating cemeteries and we ask that you honor their rules and regulations. If you're volunteering at Arlington this year, here's what you need to know.
Wreaths Across America announces open loads available as the Honor Fleet expands to transport America's Respect.
"I remember back then when we were told several times Vincent wouldn't make it through the night and I went to the chapel and said, 'God is there anything I can do to change your mind? He's our only son."
"One thing I will never forget is getting into Arlington and it was a cold, rainy day with freezing rain, and I remember looking around at all the empty headstones thinking to myself oh my God how are we going to do this."
"As part of our Wreaths Across America project, we work with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Explorers, Young Marines, and sometimes 4H members," Mike explains. "We try to engage our groups the way that I think the founder of Wreaths Across America intended."
The Civil Air Patrol Cadets meant the world to Rick. For three years he accompanied cadets to Arlington National Cemetery and assisted with laying wreaths at the cemetery. This trip changed the lives of many cadets.
"It was so moving coming down I95 because people were waving flags, honking their horns, giving us thumbs up, and saluting us."
"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.