Webinar: Wreaths Across America
by Lizann Lightfoot - November 23rd, 2021
Announcement: Throughout the month of November, PCSgrades is giving back to military-friendly non-profits by donating $5 to the non-profit of your choice whenever you leave a review on our website through our #Take5Give5 campaign.
Our Guest: Joe Reagan from Wreaths Across America
I’m an Army veteran and I’ve done my fair share of PCS moves. I’m the Director of Military and Veteran outreach at Wreaths Across America, I help the veterans in our community to thrive. We engage with communities across the country, and do much more than just laying wreaths on veteran headstones.
What is the mission and the “why” behind Wreaths Across America?
Everyone has their own “why,” but for those of us who have served, we continue to engage and honor.
The mission of Wreaths Across America is to remember the fallen, honor our living veterans, and teach the next generations of Americans about our legacy and the value of serving.
Every year, National Wreaths Across America Day is the 3rd Sunday of December, so this year it is on Dec. 18. Over 2,700 cemeteries will participate this year, and it grows every year. But it’s not just about laying wreaths, it’s about coming together as a community. Some organizations like Scout and Civil Air Patrol where they raise money for their own charity and organization by selling wreaths.
Our Teach mission is something people often don’t know about. Our radio station is available on iHeart radio nationwide, so we teach folks about the experience of serving in the military, and sharing ways to honor and support our neighbors. Many people don’t have a personal connection to someone in the military, so it’s important to help them understand issues facing military communities.
How was Wreaths Across America born?
Morrill Worcester, our founder, worked for the Worcester wreaths company in Maine. And when he was 12, he won a competition and travelled to Washington D.C. Visiting Arlington Cemetery made a huge impact on him. One year, the company had 5,000 extra wreaths that weren’t sold, so he decided to bring the wreaths to Arlington and lay wreaths on the headstones of veterans. When they put down the wreath, they would say aloud the name on the headstone. There is a saying that you die twice--once when you actually die, and again when your name is said for the last time. So we say the names aloud to keep their memories alive.
They continued to do this for years without much media attention, but in 2005, an image of the wreaths and gravestones in the snow went viral and brought more attention to the organization. Since then, it has grown and expanded into a national tradition that happens in thousands of veteran cemeteries on the same date every year.
What other initiatives are part of Wreaths Across America?
In addition to the radio program, we also have a museum up in Columbia Falls, Maine that preserves memories and stories of people who have served--not just generals, but everyday heroes. We also have a mobile education trailer that travels across the country to different schools and VFW groups or Daughters of the American Revolution who want to help share the history of the country. We are also part of the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War, the Congressionally-sponsored group that helps Vietnam veterans have an appropriate welcome home. Those who are active duty now have always been thanked and supported by the country in general, but Vietnam veterans often were never thanked for their service. We work with many large nationwide non-profits, along with smaller local organizations. We can’t honor the fallen without supporting those who currently serve.
There’s a sense of community around the wreaths, and we always want to create fully-inclusive events that allow everyone to participate. What really matters is what happens at the individual cemeteries, not just on the national level. Those are the stories that matter.
Like PCSgrades, we have a program called Doing Good Twice, where one action does good twice. It’s like your process of leaving reviews that not only help military families, but also help non-profits like Wreaths Across America.
How do people support Wreaths Across America?
Nonprofits always rely on the community of people doing what they want to do. We don’t take government grants. Each wreath is sponsored by individual Americans. Some are large donors, other people only gift one wreath for $15. And last year we laid 2.1 million wreaths! Each wreath is a gift from someone who wanted to honor veterans.
We also have the Remembrance Tree program. We have 66,000 acres of pine forest in Maine, where these wreaths come from. You can sponsor a living tree with dog tags, so that it becomes a living memorial to the service member you want to remember. We have an entire section of the forest dedicated to women veterans.
Of course you can participate in Wreath Day, but if you can’t find a participating cemetery near you, you can also start a new local program!
How does Wreaths Across America celebrate Veterans Day?
The biggest thing we are doing is highlighting the service of various veterans throughout the day. I have interviewed some veterans, we will share stories on the Radio Show, and there will be a telethon in the Mobile, AL region. We are highlighting stories through Facebook, and working to set up ceremonies in veterans cemeteries. The Patriot Pair section of our website lets you send a real balsam fir wreath to someone’s door, with the service flag of their choice, while also sending an additional wreath to a veteran cemetery for Wreath Day.
How can we get involved supporting Wreaths Across America if we are overseas?
We started a program laying wreaths in American cemeteries overseas in Europe, such as Normandy and Belleau Woods. COVID did put a stop to that, so we need to get it going again. If you are stationed anywhere overseas, you can always support a cemetery back home or do the $5 back program by leaving reviews on PCSgrades.
You can also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Every year, there are gravestones that don’t get a wreath, so we always need more support and volunteers to let every Gold Star family know that their son/daughter/spouse is being remembered and honored.
Watch the full webinar here:
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