For The 82nd Airborne Division Association the Mission is a Mindset and It's Personal
As the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaches, thoughts instinctively turn to those soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy, but there’s another Allied force that arrived ahead of them by air. Specifically, paratroopers and glider troops of the U.S. Army Airborne Division that landed behind enemy lines, transporting equipment and troops to secure roads and bridges and block the German army counter assault. One of those Airborne units, still active today and considered “America’s Guard of Honor,” is the 82nd Airborne Division.
“During the Normandy campaign, thousands deployed and over a thousand paratroopers of the 82nd died,” explains Mike Lonetto with the 82nd Airborne Division Association, Washington, D.C. chapter. “We were so excited to see Wreaths Across America in Normandy last year.”
A former paratrooper himself in the 1980s, Mike now serves as the D.C. chapter Chairman.
“The 82nd Airborne Division Association was born out of blood and brotherhood during WW II by soldier paratroopers who wanted to keep their friendships alive after the war,” Mike explains. “There’s a unique bond among paratroopers, and the Washington DC Chapter is a fraternity of paratroopers from every generation including our World War II guys, but Father time is taking a lot of those remaining. The youngest from the World War II generation would be in his 90s. Now the baton is being passed.”
The 82nd Airborne Division Association headquarters located in Fayetteville, N.C., home of Fort Bragg, has roughly 150 chapters throughout the country, some more active than others according to Mike. Members of the Washington D.C. chapter have been participating as Wreaths Across America volunteers for the last three years, becoming an official fundraising group in 2017.
“It’s really beneficial to partner up with Wreaths Across America,” Mike expressed. “We have many luminaries in Arlington National Cemetery like-General Matthew Ridgway and First Sgt. Leonard Funk Jr. a U.S. Army soldier paratrooper and Medal of Honor recipient. Both of them are laid to rest right in the shadow of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Paratroopers from the more recent conflicts are buried in section 60. We want to make sure we keep that legacy and spirit alive by remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. We look forward to tripling our participation this December.”
As an official fundraising group for Wreaths Across America, the Washington D.C. Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division receives five dollars back from every $15.00 veteran’s wreath they get sponsored for National Wreaths Across America Day, Saturday, December 14, 2019.
“I’ve watched my kids be born and such, but placing a wreath on the grave of a serviceman or woman, and saying their name is such a personal and moving event,“ Mike explains of his passion for the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor and teach. “It may be a person who hasn’t been visited in years. It’s such a touching thing to do, and it helps people.”
According to Mike, chapter members do “grave specific” requests for folks who sponsor wreaths through them, and they do their best to provide photos for those who cannot attend the wreath-laying ceremony in person. They also encourage Gold Star families to join them in Section 60 as they lay the wreaths and say their names.
Thank you, Mike, for your service as a paratrooper and now for your leadership role with the 82nd Airborne Division Association to be sure that no one who has ever served is forgotten.
You can hear more about Mike’s service, and the 82nd Airborne Division Associations’ activities with Wreaths Across America on Wreaths Across America Radio.