Every handmade Maine balsam fir remembrance wreath placed on the headstones of our fallen in December symbolizes respect and pays homage to the valor and great sacrifice of those who have served this nation throughout history.
One man who has worked tirelessly from the beginning to support the Wreaths Across America mission to remember, honor, and teach is its volunteer Chairman of the Board of Directors, U.S. Army Veteran Captain Wayne Hanson.
Wayne was born in Concord, New Hampshire but moved to Maine in the third grade. He graduated from Bangor HS and holds a BS in Education from the University of Maine. After seven years of ROTC during high school and college, Wayne received a regular Army Commission 2nd LT in the Military Police Corps serving from 1967-1971 with assignments in Alaska, Vietnam, and Alabama. He achieved the rank of Captain and received two Bronze Stars for service and achievement in Vietnam.
After his military service, Wayne worked as a criminal investigator with the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture in GA, NC, NY, and D.C. and as a criminal investigator with the U.S. Dept. of Labor in D.C. where he spent 20 years until mandatory retirement in 2002.
Wayne began volunteering with what was then known as the Arlington Wreath Project through his involvement in the Maine State Society, a group of "displaced Mainers living in the D.C. area."
"For some reason, I don't recall 1992 when Morrill first came down with the wreaths but from 1993 on I've been involved," Wayne explains. "I started placing wreaths as a volunteer, and in 2005 I stepped up to assume the role of Location Coordinator at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2007 when Wreaths Across America was established as a nonprofit organization, I was asked to serve on the Board of Directors, and in 2011 I was elected as Chairman."
The mission to honor those who serve and their families is important to Wayne on a deeply personal level. As a Vietnam Veteran, Wayne recalls there was no "welcome home" and the disrespectful treatment returning soldiers received was disheartening.
"Back in the Vietnam era people were drafted but today all of our servicemen and women are volunteers, and they've had the character to step up. They understand the value of the freedoms we have today, and they've volunteered to protect those freedoms."
A few years ago before enough wreaths were sponsored to cover all of Arlington, Wayne and his wife Ann encountered an elderly gentleman in the cemetery who asked what the wreaths were. After Wayne had explained the tribute, the man looked down and noticed the wreaths did not come all the way down the row. He looked at Wayne and said, "but what about my son?" It was that moment when Wayne was determined to do everything he could to be sure no one is forgotten in the future.
The Wreaths Across America mission objective to remember is personal too as Wayne has experienced the grief of losing a child. One day, tips from Julie's tree on the tip land in Downeast Maine will be harvested to make remembrance wreaths; an honor from Stem to Stone.
While Wayne works countless hours from year to year handling the logistics of wreath placement at Arlington, he's quick to point out he has a motivated team of volunteers working beside him making it all happen.
As Wreaths Across America's Chairman of the Board, Wayne is the lead volunteer who, with his tireless work ethic and commitment to the men and women of our nation's armed forces, sets the bar high for millions of others in the Wreaths Across America family of volunteers across the nation and overseas to follow. Wayne teaches all generations the meaning of sacrifice in the protection of our freedom.