Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Honoring our Heroes for Christmas

Saturday morning was bright and sunny, and only a little chilly, which was fine as Rob and I were going down to Arlington National Cemetery to help lay the Christmas wreaths on the graves. This is an event organized each year by Wreaths Across America. Morrill Worcester, the phenomenal founder of this non profit company sends fleets of trucks across the country to cover the graves of those who fought to keep America free. A powerful short video of how it all began is here.
We arrived at the cemetery to find crowds of folks already here and many graves already covered. I knew from past reports that not every grave had been decorated and I hadn't expected to see so many people here. I had assumed that we'd spend most of the day working hard, making multiple trips from truck to grave. But looking at the wonderful masses of helpers here today I knew that definitely wouldn't be the case.
People crowded around the trucks as large boxes were pulled off, and an organized distribution of wreaths quickly took place. I actually stood for a few minutes just watching, as an area of bare, upright white stones was quickly covered by adults and children, each wreath placed carefully and neatly at the foot of every grave. Within a couple of minutes the area I'd been watching was a beautiful landscape of white, red and green, each headstone lovingly touched and acknowledged.
Clutching my wreaths I had to walk quickly to find an area not yet decorated. It was wonderful to walk with the crowds, each of us gently carrying our precious cargo, fresh pine filling our nostrils, and all armed with the same purpose, to remember each and every one of these fallen heroes.
I had donated a wreath online to this cause and felt a little emotional as I placed it against the grave of Sergeant First Class Nice, and thanked him for his service. I'm sure there were many people who were doing the same thing as me while laying their wreath, and it seemed the air was heavy with compassion, love, honor and thanks.
Wreaths Across America volunteers were abundant to help people move to areas that still needed help. I found a spare wreath and approached a family who were carrying theirs, looking for some bare grave stones.I asked if they needed another wreath to lay since they had to walk a fair bit further on to find some empty markers. The father was ecstatic as he took the wreath, he was the only member of the family who didn't have one to lay. It was nothing short of incredible how quickly these graves were covered. I spoke to a volunteer who had been coming for years. He said that they always had to rotate the sections within the cemetery that they covered each year because there were never enough wreaths. He looked about declaring that he'd never seen as many people as this and that donations had increased so much that every grave would have a wreath this year. 624 acres with over 400,000 graves, each one decorated before the morning was finished. For the first time ever.
It was incredible how fast the whole cemetery had been covered, and it was with surprise that we found ourselves walking out before noon. They will need help removing the wreaths after Christmas so if I'm back from England in time, I'd like to help with that too. The Wreaths Across America website is here.
A prominent feature of the skyline from the cemetery since 2006 is the 270ft high U.S. Air Force Memorial so Rob and I walked up the hill to see that.
An interesting chronicle of how the memorial was erected is here with photos.
The design is supposed to evoke images of planes and space ships. It reminds me of the top of a pineapple but regardless it's very impressive with it's huge glinting shards stretching skywards. It's equilateral triangular stainless steel spires mark the entry point for the I-395 to Washington DC, each of them lit at night time.
We had an impressive view of the cemetery and it's newly covered graves, the trucks scattered about the grounds, now empty and waiting to leave,
The Honor Guard sculpture represents the diversity of gender and race in the Air Force and stands for the sacrifice and service given by these people. The realistically detailed sculpture compliments the simple clean lines of the spires. There are also two inscription granite walls at each end of the grounds and a glass panel with 4 F-16's engraved. I didn't realize until I got home and researched the memorial that only 3 of the jets had con trails. The 4th, which is in the photo before the Honor Guard photo above is missing its con trail and suggests the 'missing man formation', used during Air Force funeral fly-overs.
 We turned back and walked down the hill noticing that the cemetery was emptying fast, people leaving after having spent a very worthwhile morning ensuring that every hero resting under those green fields had been remembered for Christmas. And as I looked back for one more look I felt a little twinge of pride because it really was a most beautiful sight.

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