Wreaths Across America, with UD DC Alumni Association
It's way too cold and way too early for me but nevertheless I'm on the first train out of Grosvenor Station and it's standing room only. We are all heading to Arlington Cemetery to participate in Wreaths Across America. I have no idea what to expect so allow myself to be carried by the crowd when I arrive. Suddenly, there is silence and everyone stops. The convoy is arriving. About a dozen of trucks carrying thousands of wreaths enter the cemetery and we all watch in awe. After it passes, the streets open up again, people are scurrying about, and I head to the Women's Memorial where I am to meet fellow members of The UD DC Alumni Association. I fear I won't find them among the 75,000 volunteers but from atop of the memorial, I am able to make out CJ down below sporting her blue and gold rugby shirt. Phew!
National Wreaths Across America Day is an annual event in over 1,400 locations where the mission Remember (our fallen veterans), Honor (those who serve) and Teach (children the value of freedom) is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies. Over 1,565,000 remembrance wreaths will be placed nationwide, with 244,700 at Arlington National Cemetery. This is a super cool event; I can't believe I haven't done this before!
After an opening ceremony, my group gathers for a picture with other colleges and those who have done this before strategize about where we should begin. The trucks that entered by convoy are now stationed throughout the cemetery with volunteers at the back handing out wreaths. To my leaders, the lines look the shortest towards the back of the cemetery so that is where we head. The line snakes the path and wait our turn. I'm told that in years when the weather is worse and there are fewer volunteers, participants are given several wreaths at a time, but with today's crowds, we are only getting one at a time. We get our wreaths and look for an area that has not been visited yet. We then do what was instructed and it feels quite natural -- stand before the grave, read the name of the fallen, and lay the wreath. As I did at the Monocacy Cemetery on Veteran's Day, I try to think about who the person was, what they did, and who they left behind. After brief reflection, it's then back to the end of the line to get another. We do this a few rounds and then start to note that the graves in our section don't contain military ranks and some even say "Unknown Citizen". After some inquiry, it appears this may be a section of fallen CIA operatives. Our minds race thinking about where or what they have done for our country. The history, challenges, and courage that lie in this sacred place is overwhelming.
Looking at the hills of green and red on white stones, I can see that there is plenty of help and that this deed is almost complete -- so it's off to the family Chanukah party for me! I plan to come back, however, on January 20th to clean up and hope John, Sarah, and Ella will join me. Then, perhaps, I can have more time to meander the property and Remember, Honor, and Teach.
My Takeaways: (1) Because there was so many volunteers, this felt more like an event than a service project -- but the mission of the event was not wasted on me! I do and will Remember the fallen (those known and unknown), I did wish to Honor the service they and others did and do for our country, and I am Teaching hopefully in my home and in this blog. What is that saying about work? -- When you are passionate about what you are doing, it isn't work - ? That can count for service projects too, right? (2) I need to spend more time enjoying the gems of my community. I love being in the city but tend not to go enough. I'm so lucky to live where I need to take advantage of the sites more often. Call me next time you go and get me to join you! (3) Whether it is at Monocacy, Arlington, or the cemetery where your loved ones are buried, Remember, Honor, and Teach!