Wreaths Across America knows there's a story behind the name etched on every headstone honored on National Wreaths Across America Day in December. The same is true for the volunteers who carry out the mission to remember, honor and teach.
Christa Parker is a self-described military brat and went to high school in Germany. Her father, Victor Rose, served in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot achieving the rank of CW5 before retirement. Her husband, MSG Christopher Parker, currently serves in the U.S. Army, so her motivation to support the military is evident. But it's the loss she and her family suffered that cemented her conviction to be sure no one is ever forgotten.
Her son PFC Garrett Parker, one of four children, signed up for the Infantry and completed his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia but his military service was cut short by a tragic motorcycle crash three years ago while on leave.
While her notion of "wreaths just falling from the sky onto veterans' graves in December" is a lovely thought, she has since come to understand those wreaths appear as the result of hundreds of thousands of hard-working volunteers and compassionate citizens who sponsor a wreath to remember and honor our fallen heroes.
Christa Parker's love for her son, country, and volunteerism with Wreaths Across America knows no boundaries, quite literally. Her volunteer efforts frequently have her crossing states lines and her stamina and organizational efforts are an inspiration to all.
Christa and her family were stationed in Kansas when Garrett died but they had lived previously in Bridgeport, West Virginia for ten and a half years and he considered it home, so the family decided to have Garrett buried in West Virginia.
When she reached out to Wreaths Across America to sponsor a wreath for Garrett's grave she learned wreath-laying ceremonies were not limited to National cemeteries, so she decided to start one where Garrett was laid to rest. Christa and her husband are now stationed in Michigan, but she's the Location Coordinator and Team Leader for Bridgeport, WV.
In getting permission from the cemetery, Christa quickly realized a great deal of work lied ahead in her quest to keep the memory of her son, and the hundreds of other veterans with whom he shared this final resting place, alive.
"The cemetery office was in the process of updating their system, so they didn't know where all the veterans were buried," Christa explains. " My daughter and I walked every row and every section of that eighty-five acres and wrote down all of the veterans information, and that took about six or seven months. Then we sat down and read all of their obituary files on record and discovered more veterans who didn't have a military marker and that took us several more months. Now we're mapping out where they are so we can put markers down to identify them for wreaths."
Christa's daily efforts to remember, honor and teach best illustrate a year-long mindset and commitment to military veterans and their families, so no one is ever forgotten. She's not just researching the lives of fallen heroes, but she's regularly fundraising for Team Bridgeport to sponsor wreaths to cover over fifteen hundred veterans' headstones.
That's what prompted her to enter the Wreaths Across America FaceBook contest, "Pictures of Patriotism" in July. Christa's picture received the top number of votes, and she earned one hundred wreaths to help her honor one hundred veterans.
"It was tough for my family and me to put that picture out and have it shared over and over again because even though it's been three years, it seems like it was only yesterday," Christa shares. "I had a photographer at Garrett's funeral because I didn't want to forget and I really didn't remember much of that month at all from the moment military officials showed up at our door."
Acknowledging Christa Parker's family's proud heritage of service to our nation, their sacrifices, and courage is what powers the Wreaths Across America mission.
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.