It's hard to believe there are less than 100 days until National Wreaths Across America Day Saturday, December 16, 2017.
As time whizzes by, millions of dedicated, patriotic volunteers across this great nation are working to sponsor veterans' remembrance wreaths to honor our nation's fallen heroes. As they do Wreaths Across America is sharing the stories of our volunteers and the work they're doing in their communities to say their names in its #CountDown to Wreath Day 2017.
The motivation to volunteer is as unique as the individual yet many fall into one particular group. It's a group no one would never aspire to join. Wreaths Across America and its extended family of volunteers believe this group of men and women is one to be honored and supported.
In 2017, Sue Pollard is the acting National President of the AGSM organization, and like Candy, her ultimate sacrifice to our nation was the life of her son.
When our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, Justin was just 19 years old. Sue says he enlisted immediately and after basic training celebrated his 21st birthday in the Middle East.
"My story is a little different because my son Justin was killed in a non-combat related friendly fire incident," Sue explains. " It was an accident. A rifle that was being inspected was on burst instead of safety so when it was set down three rounds went off, and one of them killed Justin. He died in Iraq on December 30, 2003."
Justin is buried at Pacific View Cemetery in Corona del Mar, California. According to the Associated Press, his funeral was attended by more than 500 people during which the Pastor of Saddleback Church, Bob Baker, stated, "because of his death, Veterans Day will forever be different for everyone who knew Pollard. The concept of liberty takes on a new meaning because we now understand the price,” he said.
It's around the holidays when Sue and other Gold Star families feel the pain of their loss and separation from their loved ones the most.
Just as the founder of American Gold Star Mothers Grace Darling Seibold healed her broken heart by giving back to veterans' causes, Sue is doing the same.
"This year, I've asked the Gold Star Mothers to 'share Grace' because it will be the 90th anniversary of the founding of the organization at my convention in 2018," Sue explains. "I also explain Grace is what we need to give to each other. We're just Moms who serve through the organization to make sure that our children's names and lives are not forgotten. I hope I can bring a positive perspective to show others there is hope after our children die and we have support for others. Gold Star mothers are here for each other."
Sue has been involved with Wreaths Across America since joining the national Board for AGSM, and she traveled on the Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery in 2015.
"I was amazed by that experience," shares Sue. "I live in California, and you're more patriotic on the East Coast it seems compared to the West Coast. To see the children come out to greet us waving flags, and they'd sing for us. It was incredible. I met so many people that I admire along the way like Karen and Morrill."
Sue says she and the American Gold Star Mothers organization is committed to working with Wreaths Across America for the greater good of the military, our veterans, and their families as we remember, honor and teach.
Tune in to Wreaths Across America radio as we feature our Countdown to Wreath Day stories at 10:00 AM Eastern, Monday-Friday.
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.
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.