by Eden Nastal
Wreaths Across America (WAA), founded in 2007, is a national nonprofit organization that was founded to continue and expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. WAA honors veterans and active military members by placing live wreaths on the headstones of veterans.
The organization’s mission, Remember, Honor, Teach is carried out in part by coordinating wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington, as well as at veterans’ cemeteries and other locations across all 50 states.
Every year since 2008, Congress proclaims a Saturday in December as National Wreaths Across America Day. This year, it was held on Saturday, December 14.
In 2018, nearly 1.8 million veterans’ wreaths were placed by more than two million volunteers nationwide. 61,000 volunteers participate at Arlington National Cemetery alone. The final volunteer count for 2019 is expected to be just as impressive.
After watching a national news story in 2011, Gail Mangum, WAA Location Leader at Gainesville’s Alta Vista Cemetery, was inspired to bring the event to the cemetery where her father and three uncles who all served were interred.
“It never ceases to amaze me to see the love the volunteers have for the event and for the men and women of our armed forces,” said Mangum. “One of my favorite times now is visiting my dad’s grave early morning before the noon ceremony as he has always been my inspiration.
Since its founding, WAA has expanded to include nearly 2,000 local fundraising groups in all 50 states, representing more than 1,640 participating locations, in addition to Arlington National Cemetery.
“After another successful year, we are looking forward to next year to further our mission of remembering and honoring past and present soldiers, and so importantly, teaching our kids that the freedom we enjoy today has come at a great price” said Marietta National Cemetery Location Leader, Paige Joyner, LtCol, CAP.
“Marietta National Cemetery is unique in that soldiers who served in the Revolutionary War and all conflicts up to and including Iraq are buried on the hallowed grounds,” said Joyner. “It is unusual that a cemetery represents all wars and conflicts that we have been involved in.”
WAA does not receive government funding. National Wreaths Across America Day and other events are made possible by thousands of volunteers who organize local ceremonies, raise funds to sponsor wreaths and participate in the events. Individual wreath sponsors and corporate donors pay for the majority of the cost for the program. Volunteer truck drivers and trucking companies make it possible for WAA to transport wreaths all over the country.
Georgia National Cemetery, located in Canton, GA, had a large turnout this year.
“We were honored to have had approximately 4,500 visitors, patriotic organizations and businesses from the metro Atlanta area and North Georgia present this year,” said Tony Hilliard, Chairman, Georgia National Cemetery Advisory Council. “All 13,500 grave site were honored with an evergreen wreath.”
There are a number of ways to get involved in 2020. Individuals and groups interested in sponsoring a wreath, adding a new location, starting a fundraising group, or volunteering are encouraged to visit WreathsAcrossAmerica.org.