Monday, December 17, 2012

Wreaths Across America

Los Angeles National Cemetery - Wreaths have been placed.  Such a beautiful sight

For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.  It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag. – Zell Miller
 You know those days, events or moment where there are just no words?  I am never one to be speechless, sadly if I’m nervous I usually make a joke however this day even that didn’t come to me.  On December 15 I volunteered to lay wreaths at the graves of our fallen service members as part of Wreaths Across America at the Los Angeles National Cemetery.  Wreaths Across America’s mission, Remember, Honor, Teach, is carried out in part by coordinating wreath laying ceremonies a specified Saturday in December at Arlington, as well as veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in all 50 states and beyond.

In the days leading up to Saturday I received several emails from the volunteer coordinator with wreath counts asking for additional publicity and donations to bring in as many wreaths as possible this year.  The Los Angeles National Cemetery was dedicated in 1889, with over 114 acres and 85000 graves, from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other American conflicts the goal is to cover every one with a beautiful wreath.  When I showed up I was told that LANC had received 950 wreaths to be laid which is almost 700 more than last year thanks to donations.  As I walked towards the stage I saw Debra, Salina and Kylynn, both women I have learned so much from.  They told me that I would be riding along with the Patriot Guard Riders to lay 60 wreaths.  I had no idea what was next and I can be honest in saying that my level of respect and pride increased exponentially over the next 4 hours.

While most volunteers, gently laid the wreaths and went onto the next headstone the Patriot Guard Riders read short bios on each veteran we laid a wreath for, gave them each full respect and salute; if family was present they also spoke about their loved one.  I met several Gold Star Moms there to lay wreaths for their sons and heard some great stories about these young men.  I saw pictures, heard stories and hugged more people in one day than in my entire life.  I wish more people saw the faces of our fallen versus just their name – I met the mother of Army Staff Sgt. Curreri a young man that attended USC and qualified for the 2000 Olympic trials before September 11 changed his path.  His photo was on his headstone along with many of the other young men buried there.  I could have talked to the moms for hours about their sons, their grandchildren and their daughters in laws.   

During the opening ceremony we were asked to take note of the names of the veterans who’s name headstone we laid the wreath at.  To go home and look him/her up and learn a little about them... make them more than a passing moment on your Saturday morning.  I laid several wreaths that Saturday, Sergeant Christopher Dwayne Young Company C, 3rd Battalion 160th Infantry a National Guard soldier killed in 2007, an unknown soldier from Vietnam and Sgt Charles I Sprague a WWI Soldier who died in 1949.  Standing at the graves of a true heroes, with my hand upon my heart saying thank you was indescribable.

It took us almost 3 hours to lay our 60 wreaths, 3 hours of learning, thanking and honoring each man and woman laid to rest at LA National Cemetery.  When it seemed that we were the only volunteers left in the cemetery, the feeling of love was all surrounding. That was all I needed to satisfy my holiday’s – I already have the daughter and husband I always wanted this was the icing on the cake.  As we were leaving Debra, a Gold Star Wife that I met at Snowball Express handed me a gift as a thank you for being there.  I teared up instantly as being there was my thank you to her for all she has endured... in the box was a beautiful spun glass Christmas tree with a tiny gold star on the top.  This has become one of my most cherished things – it’s a representative of so much that I can’t explain.  Long after Christmas this will sit on my desk at work as a reminder of this journey. 

The Patriotic Pair wreath on our door honoring our men & women in uniform

The Patriot Guard Riders were lined up and ready

Debra, Salina (President of CA Gold Star Wives org) and Kylynn

Sgt Charles Sprague - World War I


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