Paying Tribute: The Logistics Behind Wreaths Across America
By Susan Hoffman
Contributor, In Military
On December 14, 2019, thousands of volunteers went to cemeteries nationwide to commemorate deceased servicemembers during Wreaths Across America Day. On this day, volunteers laid Christmas wreaths adorned with bright red bows on individual gravesites. A fleet of trucks transported boxes of wreaths to their assigned locations.
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The volunteers for Wreaths Across America are as varied as the people they honor. It is an event that pulls together people of different races, genders, ages and nationalities, including:
- Military services such as the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Air Force
- Civilian organizations such as the Boy Scouts and other community groups
- Local public service organizations
- Educational institutions such as AMU
Foreign military services also take part in this event. For instance, servicemembers of the Bundeswehr (German federal defense) in Reston, Virginia, came to Arlington National Cemetery. Along with their children and spouses, they helped place wreaths on many graves.
The end result of all the volunteer work is a memorable sight. Seeing a wide sea of white gravestones decorated with their Christmas wreaths is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices that many servicemembers and their families make in the service of our country.
Local Coordinators Aid Wreaths Across America
But pulling together such a massive event is no easy task. It starts with the nonprofit Wreaths Across America and involves:
- Over 2,158 locations
- Thousands of volunteers
- 250 carriers
- 600 truckloads
- 2 million wreaths
Learn more about AMU alum Robert Ahlers, whose trucking company MSR Transport donated 15 wreath deliveries this year.
The cemeteries involved in Wreaths Across America use volunteers who serve as local coordinators for the event. These local coordinators work year-round with cemetery staff and hold regular meetings to ensure that Wreaths Across America Day goes smoothly each year at their particular cemetery.
Dan Mead is the local Wreaths Across America coordinator for Arlington National Cemetery. He notes that the event requires consideration of multiple factors such as crowd control, safety, security, the placement of dumpsters and portable bathrooms, and Metro transport.
Mead says, “I work with a core team of about 20 people. There are also greeters, docents, and personnel from seven law enforcement and military organizations.
“We do our best to improve the event a bit more every year. This year, we had 19,000 people through the gates in the first hour.”
After each Wreaths Across America Day, there is an after-action report to gauge what went smoothly and what aspects of the event need refining. This report also aids in ensuring that the event runs without major hitches each year.
“It’s a well-oiled machine,” says Amber Caron, Director of Communications at Wreaths Across America. “Our coordinators have been doing this for a very long time.”
Wreaths Across America Event Also Spreading Abroad
Wreaths Across America is gradually spreading to cemeteries outside the United States. In recent years, volunteers have laid wreaths to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day in France and the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg.
Caron comments, “In places like the Netherlands and Luxembourg, many people care for these graves. It’s a way to show their gratitude to servicemembers who rescued them during World War II. At one event, over 1,000 people showed up to help. That was a moving sight.”
However, holding this event in overseas locations requires legal and agricultural formalities to be worked out. This year, Wreaths Across America and its partners shipped 15,000 wreaths to decorate graves in overseas cemeteries.
While Wreaths Across America Day is a considerable amount of work for all involved, it is essentially an expression of honor and caring. It ensures that those who lie in those graves will never be entirely forgotten.