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.
"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.
The September edition of the Military Musicians Showcase goes out to jazz lovers!
As Aaron Van Beek, Location Coordinator for Sioux Center, Iowa placed Chris Kyle's tag in Maine the announcement was made that the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and Wreaths Across America have agreed to collaborate with the support of their respective programs.
Helen told us about her brother, Ralph H. Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously following his heroic actions in Vietnam in 1968.
Yes. At Wreaths Across America, we've heard about the "Walmart Heart," and we're honored to be welcoming a group next month that has decided to combine their charity effort with their patriotism and respect.
Brandon says last year spending time at Arlington National Cemetery on National Wreaths Across America Day with fellow employees of Cowan Systems, Inc. was an educational and humbling experience.
"It's been a dream of mine to go back to Arlington with my Mom to be a part of National Wreaths Across America Day to place remembrance wreaths on my grandparents' graves."
According to Gretchen CFI went above and beyond two years ago when they helped make her dream come true.
"When we did that project we had one hundred and thirty-five of our employees at that time who had served in the military and that's a big percentage of employees for one company. We think that it's important to recognize their service."
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.
When asked if he could describe the power of the veterans' remembrance wreath he admitted it was a challenge to put into words, yet hesitated only for a moment.
One highlight from this year's performance came when Six-String Soldiers invited children of all ages to the stage to sing along with them, the Rick Charrette song, I'm An American! It echoed through the valley where replica dog tags of fallen heroes hang among the balsam fir trees' tips that will be used to make veterans remembrance wreaths.
"Rain, snow, or sunshine as you know these guys walk the walk, so we're here to dedicate this section of the tip land to the Old Guard," proclaims Wayne Hanson, Chairman of the Board for Wreaths Across America. "We certainly appreciate everything they do for us."
It was, in fact, a competitor of Abilene Motor Express who reached out to them to tell them about Wreaths Across America and Will says once the owners, Keith and Kolen Jones heard about the effort they were one hundred percent behind it right away.
Especially meaningful is the location of the Grove, which is adjacent to the soon-to-be-opened Medal of Honor Remembrance Park. From this vantage point, The Old Guard will continue to stand watch over America’s fallen heroes.
Kevin says driving Armellini's load of wreaths in the escort to VA National Cemetery in Lake Worth along with the Walmart trucks is a meaningful experience for him emotionally because of honoring veterans, but he says there's also a more physical kind of excitement as a professional driver.
Starting at the end of this month, as we countdown to Wreath Day, we would like to invite you to appear on our national webcast/webinar series to tell us about the local veterans buried in your community. We will also run your interview on WAA Radio and share on social media and in the newsletter.
"If we don't teach this younger generation that freedom is not free they're going to forget and not understand the sacrifice made by these men and women who keep us free and safe. I don't know where this country would be if not for the brave people who step up and volunteer to serve in our military. It's really scary to think of where we'd be without a powerful military."
Thinking about Christmas during July provides us with the perfect opportunity to encourage others to get involved with our mission by sharing the stories of their hometown heroes while explaining, however, to those not familiar we're not "decorating graves."