03 January 2010

Wreaths Across America

I took a bit of a self-imposed hiatus of contact from most everyone I know during the month of December for reasons I'll get into in the next post. One thing I meant to get up before the disconnect was an entry about Wreaths Across America.

December 11th was the one year anniversary of my dad's death. The 11th proved to be far less difficult than the 9th; the day that he actually fell, but it was still hard. Lucky for me (though most others would think it was an unlucky coincidence) I was laid off on the 11th. No panicking necessary - I knew my last day with SAIC was December 11th since about June of this year. I ended up taking the afternoon of the 10th and the entire day of the 11th off, and convinced my mom to book a one way ticket to DC on the 10th. She needed a distraction from the clock, or she'd have sat around watching the moments tick by, knowing exactly what happened. Besides, Akron is gloomy, and at least DC had an abundant amount of sunshine those few days. We drove back on the morning of the 11th, and my sister met us at the house as well. Spirits were high, and we knew we were about to do a good thing in the morning.

Around October, I heard a radio spot for Wreaths Across America. The ad called for volunteers and online wreath donations to help the annual decoration of Arlington National Cemetery. A bit of history about the program from the website:

The Arlington Wreath program was started by Morrill Worcester (Worcester Wreath) in 1992 with the donation and laying of 5000 Christmas wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. This became an annual journey for Mr. Worcester. Read more about this in the History of Arlington.

It was relatively obscure until 2005 when a photo of the stones adorned with wreaths and covered in snow circulated around the internet. The project received National attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries spurred the creation of “Wreaths Across America”. Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Mr. Worcester conceived the idea of sending 7 wreaths (one for each branch of the military as well as POW/MIA). In 2006 with the help of the CAP and other civic organizations, over 150 locations held wreath laying ceremonies simultaneously.
Since then, it has grown to include shipments and donations to many National Cemeteries. I saw the date was December 12th, and was a bit bummed that I wouldn't be able to help, as I knew I'd be home in Ohio at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery where Dad is buried. I continued reading through the webpage and saw that wreaths could be donated directly to the participating cemetery of choice, so I bought a few for OWRNC, and forwarded the link to my mom. My sister also wanted to help, so I contacted the coordinator to set us up as volunteers for wreath laying.

We woke up the morning of and began to pile layers on. Western Reserve sits at the top of a good-sized hill, and is often quite windy. Despite the sunlight pouring through the windows, we knew we were in for a cold morning. Sometimes pictures are better than words, so I'll let them do the story telling:

Folks from the local Rolling Thunder Chapter. Those in DC - this is the
group that comes in force on Memorial Day on thousands of motorcycles.
Good group of people - they were the main volunteers at the wreath laying, and do so every year.

My sister laying a wreath

Bundled up and laying a wreath on a strangers grave.

Mom (the blue Eskimo) and Doug, Board Member of the local
Rolling Thunder, Marine, and worked with Dad for years.
Talking about how much Dad is missed around the CCX Terminal.

The off-center stick in the previous picture is
actually this little verse called "The Title". Doug came out
on the Marine Corps Anniversary and put these on the graves of those
who were Marines. Somehow it got pushed off-kilter a bit,
and then froze that way. Click to zoom.

Miss you, Dad.

After the wreaths were laid, at 12pm across the country all participating groups have a service honoring those who served and who gave their lives for our country. At Western Reserve, there's a flagpole in the center of the cemetery with large circular logos around the base for each branch of the armed forces. A member of each branch laid a wreath on their logo as the honors were read for the particular branch.

I can't say that it eased the pain of remembering what we went through last year, but I can say that it warmed the heart a bit to know that maybe someone will come out and see a wreath was laid on their loved one's headstone.

Gone, but never forgotten.