On December 15, my husband and I braved a cold and rainy Saturday morning with thirty or so other volunteers from the Scott Air Force Base Civil Engineering squadron to place wreaths on headstones at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. Little did I know, that our little Saturday service project was a part of something much bigger, a nationwide service project known as “Wreaths Across America.” The mission of this non-profit is three-fold: to 1) remember our fallen U.S. Veterans, 2) honor those who serve, and 3) teach children the value of freedom. It was born out of the good deed of a man and his wreath company that had excess wreaths and thought to use them to honor our country’s veterans at Arlington National Cemetery. The efforts quickly became country-wide with trucks and volunteers are chiming in to do their part. Today, wreaths are laid at more than 1,000 locations across the United States and beyond.
The deed was simple. We would get a wreath and a number assignment. The wreath would then be delivered to the headstone with that same number on the back. It’s amazing how a simple deed of laying a wreath at a stranger’s grave can mean so much. Our group of volunteers included members from the squadron, their spouses and their children. I was on my way back to the truck to grab another wreath to lay and I overheard one of the men volunteering say to his tired, wet, and cold little girl “Come on, this is important.” She perked up and continued to take more wreaths. It was powerful for me to see how important this was to service members and how important it was for them to instill the same in their children.
Just as we were finishing laying wreaths, it began to rain harder. Everyone took off in a hurry but I remember just taking a minute to look at the headstones – all lined up perfectly in straight lines adorned with wreaths. It was beautiful. Though it was cold, wet, and muddy that morning, this act of service was the least we could do for these veterans that sacrificed so much so that we could enjoy today’s freedoms.
As we drove away, we realized that there was a line for miles and miles to get into the cemetery. Even as we entered the highway, the back-up continued. We were unsure of whether or not these cars were the families of those fallen service members visiting their loved ones’ headstone or more volunteers to lay wreaths, but regardless it was an indication of just how impactful these wreaths and this program were. It was an amazing experience to be a part of and I know that we will continue to volunteer for years to come. Who knows? Maybe we will volunteer with our children someday so they can experience the same solemn respect and appreciation for freedom that we saw on display that morning.