40 thousand graves of veterans and their spouses. Millions nationwide. 750 locations. What does it all mean?
Today was America’s annual Wreaths Across America (WAA) program. Locally, it was at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery (IGNC), but there were also 749 other locations throughout the US. What was unique about the local ceremony? Possibly nothing. Basically, this is one person’s musings and observations. I’ve “worked” the event before, volunteering for the group who coordinates the event. The co-leaders are a retired military person and his wife. They’re amazing and put HUGE effort into this one day each year.
But do they do it on their own? No way! There are countless others involved, from the military, boy scouts and veterans to current State Police, ambulance personnel and even a bus company who graciously donated their time and equipment to transport attendees from the parking area to the ceremony at the PA Veteran’s Memorial.
When you’re involved in this event, at this location, you start getting emails early in the season. They come early, they come often, and they’re thorough. Its hard not to smile at some of them, because John has a fantastic sense of humor and he and Lisa play on that. It adds levity. The WAA ceremony could be sad. It could be somber. It IS somber. And yet, in the organization of it, everyone is friendly, open and willing to laugh with their mistakes.
Today, there were over 5,500 wreaths laid on some of the 40,000 graves at IGNC. Last year, there were approximatly 3,200 wreaths laid. The goal? A wreath for EVERY grave at IGNC. This event isn’t just about honoring those who served our country. Its about teaching all of us who are younger how important it is to REMEMBER the fallen.
The people that made today happen are so cool. One of the buglers was carrying two horns. When asked what the difference was, he not only explained, but explained (in a FUN way!) the history of Taps. Did you know that it wasn’t the original song that accompanied the extinguishing of the lights at the end of the day, and it wasn’t originally used in funerals?
The Leathernecks Motorcycle club are also a really neat group. Stereotypically, bikers are tough, heartless troublemakers, right? That stereotype couldn’t be more wrong with the Leathernecks and Iron Horse Helpers clubs. The Iron Horse Helpers raised over $15k for the day, which amounted to about 1,005 wreaths. That’s more than any other single group. The Leathernecks not only helped to unload the truck that brought the wreaths to the Gap from Maine, but made sure that they were distributed to the sections, counted, and ready to go before nearly anyone else got to the cemetery this morning. They also distributed the wreaths to those who were laying them, and were ready to help out in any way that was needed. These “stereotypical” bikers really are a GREAT group of men and women with hearts of gold.
“Duke,” a 19- year old Percheron and his handler from Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster also honored our Veterans by providing the traditional riderless horse. Duke was a huge hit with the crowd after the ceremony, too…he seemed to like the kids the best, ducking his head down so they could pet him!
How do you honor the Veterans who provided us what we know today? Who fought and sometimes paid with their own lives, so ours would be more secure. Do you sponsor a wreath? Place one on a loved one’s grave? Do you attend the ceremony and talk to your kids about the experiences of the different people you know who have served?
A local lady, whom I got to talk to during the WAA planning meeting a few weeks ago had an exceptionally awesome story. Her company provided the truck from Maine to Lebanon, and her family has been involved in WAA for years. One of “her” drivers passed away a couple of years ago, and when she went to place a random wreath last year, she was redirected by one of the helpers and ended up, very much “accidentally,” at the driver’s grave. She got to tell her story at the event and it was neat to see the impact that it made on every person there.
I wish there were a better way to explain the emotions you get to observe at the WAA ceremony and during the wreath laying. The respect for the dead is incredible. The respect for the living is top-notch. Why do those involve help? Respect and a desire to teach others about why they feel the way they do, I think. And, because of love. Love for our veterans and love for our kids. Maybe even a desire to make the world a better place. Everyone was encouraged to take a picture of the grave where they laid a wreath. To research that person’s life just a bit. To find out their story and why they are a hero. To find out why family would add nuts to their grave.
The goal of Wreaths Across America is to “Remember. Honor. Teach.” Consider joining us next year on December 14 to honor someone who has made a difference in your life.
For the one our family loves, respects and misses, the one about whom we teach our own kids, you are missed.