At Wreaths Across America, we remember our fallen heroes, honor those who serve and their families, and teach younger generations the value of freedom. Veterans Day is acknowledged as a national holiday every November 11th since 1938. Wreaths Across America keeps veterans and their service to our nation near and dear to our hearts every day.
One of those individuals we cherish and respect is 92-year-old Charles Phinney of Milbridge, Maine a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He's a humble man who welcomes you into his home with a twinkle in his eye and warm, hearty laugh. He admits if you're a lady you'll get a big hug too.
Like so many veterans who have fought the enemy to liberate others from oppression and protect our freedom, Charles Phinney tucked the memories of what he did and endured during war deep inside himself and moved on to raise and provide for a family.
Wreaths Across America was honored earlier this year when Charles, his wife Madelyn and grandchildren Charemon and Rick Davis shared the story of his service, his commendations, and his opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. with Honor Flight of Maine.
In 1943, Charles knew when he reached his 18th birthday he'd be drafted into World War II, so he decided to enlist a few days before. His MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) out of basic training was searchlights. He and a buddy were ready to sign up to be paratroopers, but they had already been assigned to the 405th Regiment of the 102 Infantry Division also known as the Ozark Division and were sent to Germany.
The Ozark Division suffered heavy casualties enduring 173 days of constant contact with the enemy.
"We were replacements," explained Charles. "My best friend Luke Moore and I went over together. He was a First scout, and I was a Second scout. We were taking a town when we were shot at by a sniper up in a church. We had grenades on our hip belts, and the sniper hit a grenade, and it killed my buddy."
Despite the shock of seeing his friend blown apart on the battlefield, there was no time to process what he had just witnessed let alone to grieve. Charles managed to crawl over to a tank gunner to identify the location of the sniper. "They swung around, and with just one shot the top of the church came off."
Troops had to keep moving forward, and before long they were pinned down again by a German soldier with a machine gun. "I managed to get to where he was, and we had a little discussion. I came out on top, and that was the end of that. It's just something you had to do."
Among the many emblems for his gallantry, Charles has the Silver Star, the military's third highest personal decoration for valor in combat. The one he's most proud of however is his Combat Infantry Badge. He also received several others he didn't know he'd earned until his grandchildren tirelessly researched his service record. Those medals now hang in Charles' home.
It wasn't until Charles was called back into service in the Korean War that he got to use his skills setting up searchlights. "They'd be shooting at us a night, and we'd snap the lights on and there they were lined up like clay pigeons," Charles recalled with a chuckle. "That only lasted for about two months before they got some artillery in there. I had set my light up one night, and a shell came over, and all I had left were some cables. They knocked out so many lights after a while we couldn't use them anymore. Then they sent me back home."
Charles says his Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. to see the war memorials was one he'll never forget.
"We had five police escorts for our bus on the way in and it was quite interesting to see how one motorcycle cop would go ahead and hold the traffic at an intersection while we went through," Charles explained. "There were a couple of hundred school children at the World War II monument, and we were shaking their hands. That was quite something. I think the highlight of the trip though was when we were taken to Arlington to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier."
To top off his excitement, there was another surprise in store for Charles. The family arranged for a surprise visit to the hotel by two of his grandsons who live in the Virgina area.
As we approach Veterans Day 2017, Wreaths Across America wishes to express our sincere gratitude to Mr. Charles Phinney and all those who have stepped up for uniformed service to our nation.
Terry says veterans make up about 18 percent of the Berkshire Hathaway company's workforce. Wreaths Across America gives them the opportunity to recognize veterans across the country but most importantly says Terry to honor their employees who served.
Wreaths Across America announced that its Executive Director Karen Worcester and Founder Morrill Worcester were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s Patriot Award, the highest award the Society can bestow to an individual.
I was a Navy spouse for 12 years and during that time we lost over two dozen of our closest friends. Most of whom are buried at Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.
Photo Contest Winners Announced
Wreaths Across America chose the 2018 Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, KY, from March 22-24 to debut its newly designed Traveling Education Exhibit. This 48-foot display trailer hooked to its Chevy truck was loaded with many “hands on” technology and interactive information about the program to help visitors learn about the mission to Remember, Honor, and Teach.
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Wayne Hanson was honored to be one of the Wreaths Across America team accompanying the exhibit, where one of the more memorable things he had the pleasure of doing was to say two words to some of those present…”Welcome Home!”
As the only fully-integrated recycling provider in Central Texas, TDS joined in the effort to remember, honor and teach by donating their services.
All of the 30 Medal of Honor Recipients in attendance during the four days of events were glad to have a chance to meet Morrill and Karen.
The goal of the S.W.A.T. training is to create a core "support group" for location and fundraising volunteers with more experienced leaders joining the ranks every year.
"If you're an American, you're proud to do it. I know it's probably one of the best things I've done every year."
Mission Matters with Karen Worcester is a new program heard only on Wednesdays on Wreaths Across America Radio. Here's the schedule of the shows coming up and a link to the station.
Anyone who really knows me knows that I am often a walking Wreaths Across America billboard. They will normally see me sporting a WAA-branded sweatshirt or t-shirt, my blue and green WAA wristband and my ever-present WAA baseball cap. I’m proud of my connection with WAA and love to promote what we do and why we do it.
That being said, I want to relate a recent encounter I had while standing in line at our local Social Security Administration (SSA) Office the other day.
Air Force Veteran*, Wayne Merritt, currently manages the Veterans Transportation Program based out of Wreaths Across America Headquarters in Maine. Monday thru Friday, Wayne travels to area towns in the Downeast region to pick up veterans and bring them to their doctors’ appointments. This is just one of the many free programs Wreaths Across America offers to veterans and their families.
Military children worry about their parent’s safety very day. These children face many challenges, frequent moves and lengthy separation due to trainings and deployments. They take on more responsibilities and worry about their parent every day.
"I really don't see it stopping, and we want people to tell us where they see it. Take pictures and videos when you check it out and share them with us on social media."
Debbie says she and the transportation team are excited about new and more efficient systems that will be in place for 2018 and beyond.
To come up with an accurate wreath count for sponsorships, great effort was taken to assure no one was forgotten.
As we approached, Morrill and I began to realize that here laid the body of a very important veteran that we had apparently overlooked for the past 26 years in our annual wreath placement.
The many stops along the way at schools, veterans organizations, police and fire stations were also overflowing with love and good wishes.
I want my daughter to grow up understanding what true heroes are and the sacrifices that have been made for us to live in a free country.
Complete strangers just moments before, together, Denny and Ella read the name on her grandfather's headstone and talked some about him while laying his wreath.
"When she explained to us what Wreaths Across America is and does, it was a no-brainer for me that we would get involved."
On behalf of her father Rod, Cindi shared her grandfather's words with the audience during the memorial service. You can hear her presentation and see other highlights from the service in this video.
These two quiet and humble individuals are a team dedicated to giving back to their nation. They educate others by sharing their experiences and lessons of love and sacrifice not just from the war but the other "battlefields of life."
To better serve our volunteers in 2018 and beyond, we're reorganizing and providing more tools to support their inspiring efforts.
"I witnessed a few of the boys laying an "in honor of" wreath. They did it with reverence."
Guided by an infrangible faith when the supply of lifejackets ran out they gave up their own to save the lives of others.
"I went up to that hill and looked at all of those graves of my colleagues who have gone before me.
Volunteers planning to assist in removing wreaths are asked to attend a short briefing at the McClellan Gate at 8:30 a.m. and to follow these guidelines.
As witnessed through this video, the volunteer commitment of patriotic citizens is a year-round effort that culminates in a remarkable day of unity, friendship, and healing.
Some give the ultimate sacrifice of a loved one and are often left in sorrow to wonder if other citizens remember or appreciate what they gave up for liberty and justice for all.