Public urged to participate to honor fallen vets Dec. 14
Rotary Club of Farragut learned how they could honor fallen veterans through Wreaths across America.
Chris Albrecht, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1078 Communications director, talked to Rotarians during a meeting earlier this fall in Fox Den Country Club about the upcoming laying of the wreaths in Knoxville’s veterans’ cemeteries.
“The mission of Wreaths across America is simple. It’s ‘remember our fallen; honor our veterans and teach our children,’” Albrecht said.
Wreaths Across America is a nationwide program, where evergreen wreaths are placed on the graves in veterans’ cemeteries on a Saturday in mid-December each year, he said.
This year, Wreaths Across America Day will take place beginning at noon, Saturday, Dec. 14, in Knoxville’s three veteran’s cemeteries: East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery along Gov. John Sevier Highway, East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery along Lyons View Pike and Knoxville National Cemetery along Tyson Street.
This honor is bestowed on the same day at every cemetery across the country, Albrecht said.
“We encourage everyone who can to come out and place wreaths,” he added. “I recommend that you get there early. We will have off-site parking and shuttle busses.
“People frequently ask, ‘How can I help?’” Albrecht said, noting there are two ways.
Along with volunteering to lay wreaths, another important way is to sponsor a wreath or wreaths, each of which costs $15.
“This is strictly a grass-roots effort,” Albrecht said. “There is no state funding; there is no federal funding or funding from the Veterans Administration.
“This is all from folks like you and me,” he added, but noted some corporations will step up and help.
To sponsor a wreath, go online to Knoxwreaths.org.
The roots of the program go back to a 12-year-old paper boy, Morrill Worcester, who won a trip to Washington, D.C., in a subscription drive for a Bangor, Maine, newspaper, Albrecht said.
“Arlington Cemetery was the thing that made the biggest impression on (Morrill),” he said, adding when that boy grew up he founded the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine.
In 1982 Worcester Wreaths found itself with a surplus of wreaths as the holidays approached. “Remembering his boyhood experience in Arlington,” Albrecht said, “Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor some veterans with those wreaths.
“With the help of then Mayor Olympia Snow, arrangements were made to take these surplus wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery, and they placed them in the older part of the cemetery that rarely got visitors anymore,” he added.
“What became an annual tribute went on from 1992 to 2005, when (a) particular photo of Arlington surfaced on the Internet. The wreaths against the headstone with a blanket of snow became a viral hit. Suddenly, the project received national attention.”
In 2008, Albrecht said more than 300 locations had wreath-laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries, with 100,000 wreaths placed, and 60,000 volunteers participating.
On Dec. 13, 2008, Congress declared it to be National Wreaths Across America Day.
“Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers has grown exponentially,” Albrecht said. “Ceremonies are now conducted at Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites of the 9-11 tragedies. This was accomplished with the help of a couple thousand fundraising groups, corporate contributions and donations of trucking, shipping and thousands of helping hands.
“The organization’s goal at Arlington National Cemetery was met in 2014 for the placement of 226,525 wreaths,” he added.
“That was quite a milestone in the program.”
Meanwhile, in Knox County, former Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett spearheaded the Wreaths Across America push for Knoxville’s three veterans’ cemeteries – two state and one national, Albrecht said.
“Upon leaving office, Mayor Burchett asked the Capt. (Bill) Robinson Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America if we would assume the role in 2018 and beyond,” he said.
“Now, it’s our role to see that no hero is ever forgotten.”