William Bowers

Author and American Air Force Veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Storm

Wreaths Across America: Celebrating Freedom

Wreaths Across America: A Brief History

Twenty-five years ago, Maine wreath-maker, Morrill Worcester donated 5,000 extra wreaths, to honor the service and sacrifice made by our nation’s military. Little did Morrill know that his simple gesture would inspire Americans across the country. On December 16, 2017, at 1,422 participating locations nationwide, Americans placed more than 1,565,000 remembrance wreaths. At Arlington National Cemetery specifically, 244,700 were placed by the largest number of volunteers to ever participate there. Through a network of truck drivers, donated trucks, donated fuel and the commitment of dedicated volunteers, the Wreaths Across America mission to Remember, Honor and Teach was realized.

Each wreath, donated by individuals or organizations, was placed on the graves by volunteers. This small gesture of gratitude for the freedoms Americans enjoy has become part many families’ Christmas traditions.  After a little research, I learned that fresh evergreens have been used as a symbol of honor and have served as a living tribute for centuries. Wreaths Across America believes the tradition represents a living memorial that honors veterans, active duty military, and their families. When each wreath is placed, volunteers are asked to say the name of the veteran out loud to ensure their memory lives on.

My Wreaths Across America Experience

This year, I had the honor to participate in the annual “Wreaths Across America” ceremony at Philadelphia National Ceremony. To say that my participation was a humbling experience would be an understatement. Humbling, because I was confronted with the reality of just how many Americans and their families had sacrificed to protect and defend this country. There was also something inspiring about the experience. Considering the turmoil and discontent across our Nation, I was reassured to see my patriotic fellow citizens honoring the fallen; those who as President Lincoln said, “gave their last full measure of devotion,” for what President Regan called “that shining city on a hill.” It was fitting and proper that no one among the crowd cared what political party they were members of or what their individual beliefs were.

As I placed wreaths and navigated my way around 12,000 graves, my heart filled with pride. It was a great privilege being part of the event. I was able to show my devotion to my comrades, my family, my country, and my liberty. Moreover, each marker represented the history of our Nation when it faced her greatest fears. Soldiers from the Civil war up through our current conflicts were interred on those hallowed grounds. There was a moment where I heard the words of President Lincoln in 1863, “these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Filled With Emotion

The turnout of volunteers who offered to honor these heroes was an amazing sight to see. Children as young as 4 years old to veterans in their 70’s were on hand to pay tribute to our Nation’s true heroes. I saw tears, I saw smiles, I saw deep reflection, and I saw understanding. However, more importantly, I felt unity, respect, and honor across generations. The spirit of American pride blooming in younger generations and watching them, not learn about patriotism and American pride, but feeling it firsthand.

With every wreath I placed on a grave, a sense of gratitude and pain was felt through my body. I stood speechless as my emotions churned. In my mind, I thanked each soldier for their sacrifice and the freedoms I enjoy today. My thoughts were with each soldier. Consequently,  I felt the pain they endured, so my rights, and those of my family would be secure. Although I was surrounded by thousands of my fellow Americans, the air was still and silent. The only sounds that reverberated through the depths of my consciousness were the words of our National Anthem.

A Personal Connection

Then, with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, the words “ultimate sacrifice” gained new meaning. My mind drifted to American Airmen Robert Gray and Steve Faust. Both were murdered on foreign soil for simply protecting the citizens of the nation where their murderers lived. The men and women who are laid to rest at the Philadelphia National Cemetery represent not just markers and headstones; they represent our sons, daughters, friends, husbands, wives, sisters and brothers who chose to defend our great country in the name of freedom. The words sacrifice and courage seemed insufficient to describe the magnitude of my feelings. The cost of war and the loss of life by a service person is too often overlooked. Sadly, many lack a connection; however, events like Wreaths Across America can evoke overwhelming emotions that connect us all.

Final Thoughts and Prayers

Our nation is confronted by many dangers from abroad. We must stand united against those intent on destroying us, and our way of life. My prayer is that those sleeping in our National Cemeteries across the Country have not died in vain. I pray we can come together as a Nation.  Remember, our government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is ours o protect.

I highly recommend volunteering in this yearly event. If you value the freedoms provided by our Constitution, Wreaths Across America is an opportunity to honor those freedoms.  Furthermore, you have the chance to safeguard those rights for future generations. The pride and gratitude you will feel will be a gift you will cherish for the rest of your life. The future is in our hands and we are tasked with preserving our heritage.

To all who participate each year, I offer a sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart. As a Veteran, your meaningful actions ensure that the promises I made to my country are kept. For more information please refer to the Wreaths Across America Website. 

4 Comments

  1. Bill, thank you for volunteering. I am sure you have brightened the day for a lot of Gold Star families. Unfortunatly I lost some men in VietNam I do place wreaths on 245 graves of soldiers that we buried the ashes of in the National Cementary here in New Jersey , every time I do this I feel the same emotions that you do .
    Thanks again

  2. Great background info. Thanks for always giving. Why do we keep doing that? 🙂 I appreciate you!

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Photo credit Danielle Foster Creations

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