"What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God."
You'll find that inscription on the inside of a wedding band belonging to Vietnam Medal of Honor Recipient, Colonel Roger Donlon, U.S. Army Special Forces (Ret.). It was given to him by his wife Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife.
Wreaths Across America believes the Donlon's are indeed a gift in what they have become. 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."
The Donlon's have honored us with their companionship for the grand opening of the Wreaths Across America Museum's Welcome Home Exhibit and then again for the 2017 Annual Wreath Escort to Arlington National Cemetery back in December.
One evening during the trip, which Roger called "simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting," we escaped the group and ducked into a hotel conference room for a quick chat. While we knew of Roger's service and heroism that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War, we knew very little about Norma's past experiences that made her a member of the club no one wants to join. She became a Gold Star wife.
Roger was shipped off to Vietnam in 1964. In 1965, a newly-wed young man, stationed in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division stepped up to volunteer to take a shotgun platoon to Vietnam. A week before he was to return home to his bride Norma, 1 LT John W. Irving Jr. was killed in action. Norma explains it was some time after his death that she learned of the circumstances.
"His unit was preparing to transport some Vietnamese Rangers to the front when he looked at the door gunner that day and said 'hey Chip I'm going to ride one more time and he took his place on the chopper. When the choppers went to drop the Rangers, he was killed instantly by hostile ground fire."
In this video, Norma shares more about how she and her late husband's family were treated during the Vietnam era. The Donlon's also share how they have been impacted by the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach. They express their gratitude for the improvements we've made as a nation in honoring our Vietnam veterans and Gold Star families.
The Donlon's both agreed the most lasting image they witnessed while traveling as part of the escort were the groups of young children waving American flags along the route, and of those who participated in welcoming ceremonies singing patriotic songs and honoring veterans.
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.
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."