Wreaths Across America 2014: A Volunteer's Story

Wreaths Across America 2014: A Volunteer's Story


By Marty McKee
Editor, In Military Education

Wreaths adorn the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery


When my alarm clock announced its presence at 4:30 a.m. last Saturday, it sounded like the Martian saucers in the original War of the Worlds. It had been a loooonng time since I rolled out of bed that early, but my reluctance to leave my warm bed in the Virginia suburbs was tempered by the knowledge I was getting up to do something good.

I was scheduled to be a truck volunteer for Wreaths Across America, a national non-profit organization that pledged to place 750,000 evergreen wreaths on the graves of military men and women in all 50 states this holiday season.

Along with many fellow American Military University (#AMU) staff members, I arrived at Arlington National Cemetery at 5:45 a.m., ready for a long, hard, but fulfilling day of placing “remembrance wreaths” on the headstones of servicemembers resting within Arlington’s 624 acres.

Arlington National Cemetery is an evocative presence at night, and walking to the Memorial Amphitheater with just the moon to guide me is an experience I’ll never forget.

Arlington Memorial Amphitheater at night

That this year is the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery made the day feel that much more special, as I joined the other AMU volunteers at Section 3, where rests hundreds of souls, including Apollo astronauts Roger Chaffee and Gus Grissom. My job was not a glamorous one — breaking down empty boxes and stacking them on pallets to be hauled away later — but I was happy to be there to do my part.

Boxes of wreaths ready to be unpacked and placed against headstones at Arlington National Cemetery

All told, my group of AMU volunteers unloaded, broke down, and cleaned up after 300 boxes, and placed 3948 wreaths against deserving gravestones. Some stones had been there for 100 years. For most of the day, I stood fifty feet from a grave so new that it didn’t yet have a stone. But I made sure it got a wreath.

Volunteers of all ages came from all over and from all stripes — from Frank the truck driver, who trekked from Georgia to Maine to pick up the wreaths and then bring them back down to Virginia, to the Cub Scouts, college students, and just ordinary folk who stopped by to place a wreath or two or a couple dozen.

AMU ambassadors Matt Peeling and Uchenna Faumuina-Eze posing with wreaths at Wreaths Across America
Ambassadors Matt Peeling and Uchenna Faumuina-Eze joined hundreds of volunteers from the AMU and APU community at Wreaths Across America on December 13, 2014. Faumuina-Eze also brought members of the basketball team he coaches, pictured above.

While we were volunteering at Arlington, so were thousands of others at cemeteries all across the United States, including Macon, Georgia. You don’t have to live near the nation’s capital to participate in Wreaths Across America. Visit their website to find out how you can be a part of Wreaths Across America 2015.

You can also learn more about this year’s Wreaths Across America by reading these related blog articles:

About the Author

Marty McKee joined the Marketing Administration department of American Military University in April 2014. Among his duties is editorship of the In Military Education blog.