Snowflakes slowly drifted down, settling on my shoulders and hat in the peaceful quiet. I paused momentarily, feeling my daughter kicking in my belly. My boots crunched through the snow-crusted autumn leaves, eyes down and slightly ahead. I was waiting for the call:
“Empty grave here!”
Then many heads would lift, ready to carefully place one of the evergreen wreaths in that empty space.
Wreaths Across America Honors Our Troops
Every December, at national cemeteries across the US, thousands of wreaths and volunteers arrive to honor our brave troops. What is now an annual tradition began as one man’s quest to do a little good with a few extra wreaths. Morrill Worcester, the owner of Worcester Wreath Company, had unsold wreaths at the end of the holiday season in 1992. Instead of throwing them away, he donated them to Arlington National Cemetery to be placed on the graves.
Over the years, the momentum grew. Blue Bird Ranch trucking signed on to transport the wreaths from Maine to Virginia. Then a photo of the snow covered wreaths at Arlington went viral, sparking national interest in expanding the efforts.
Wreaths Across America has events at 1,200 locations coast-to-coast. There is sure to be a wreath-laying ceremony close to your duty station.
Remember, Honor, Teach
The core mission of Wreaths Across America is Remember, Honor, Teach. As Karen Worcester says: “We are not here to ‘decorate graves.’ We are here to remember not their deaths, but their lives.” Volunteers at Wreaths Across America events are encouraged to pause at each grave, to take a moment, to say that person’s name. This is centered on the belief that a person can die twice, the second time being the last time someone utters their name.
By remembering each person, by saying their names, we are honoring the lives that these brave troops lived. More than that, we are participating in our national history and cementing our identity through our shared sacrifices, through the losses and victories.
Walking through Arlington, I saw parents kneeling with children at graves. The teacher in me made me veer a little closer. Every time, I heard the parent explaining a little more about the meaning of that grave. Not necessarily the person, but the bigger picture: Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan. Each time, the child nodded solemnly, as if absorbing the knowledge into his soul.
In one area, I saw several families stop at Abner Doubleday’s grave. There are often baseballs and bats left here, to honor the reported inventor of baseball. Others paused in front of Montgomery Meigs’ grave. In an act of spite, Meigs ordered Union dead to be buried on Robert E. Lee’s front lawn. Later, Meigs buried his own son here in Section 1.
Military Families Honoring Our Troops
Volunteering at Arlington was, and continues to be, a major moment in my journey as a military spouse. I’d been to Arlington before, of course. The cemetery was always there, an ever-present reminder of our national sacrifices. Even taking tours here didn’t quite impact me the way Wreaths Across America did.
Maybe it was the quiet. Even with hundreds of people on the grounds, Arlington felt solitary. The snow and fallen leaves insulated and softened my footsteps. If I closed my eyes, I could almost feel the magnitude of the space.
Maybe it was the symbol of the season. Christmas is such an important time in my family, filled with traditions and celebrations. Wreaths have always symbolized new beginnings, new life, and joy. Placing these evergreens on the graves of our war dead reminded me of the foundations of our democracy and the richness of our heritage.
Maybe it was the new little life kicking inside me. I was carrying the next generation, ready to carry on the fight for freedom and democracy.
Laying wreaths at Arlington, or anywhere, should absolutely be on your military family to-do list. Being a part of this bigger project really showed me America in a way that nothing else truly has. I also got a glimpse of the bigger support network, here to honor the service and sacrifice of our troops. Placing these wreaths as a military spouse made all of it very real and deeply personal.
Each time I laid a wreath, it made me catch my breath a little bit with the bigness of it all. I could still honor these brave troops who gave their last full measure. Even if it was only with a simple Christmas wreath and a quiet pause while I whispered their name once again.
Have you participated in Wreaths Across America? Share your experience in the comments.
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