I had never done this before. Wreaths Across America is an organization that allows ordinary people like me to sponsor wreaths that are placed on graves of soldiers at national cemeteries. They do this in one day (today this year), at all national cemeteries all over America.
So I signed up in October to volunteer to place the wreaths. At the time there were 11 others who had volunteered. The cemetery here has 5,200 gravesites so I guessed we’d be pretty busy for most of the day.
I guessed wrong.
They’ve done this for about 10 years. Each year more people become involved, both donating wreaths as well as volunteering to place them. There were hundreds this year.
Despite flooding rains, mud, Christmas shopper traffic all these people came. Not just military people, there were Gold Star Moms, families, college students, plain people like me and veterans.
With military precision the ceremony began at 12:00pm sharp with an invocation, presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem. If that wasn’t enough to get someone choked up, the flags of each branch of the military, including Civil Air Corps and Rough Riders with a representative of the branch all laid a wreath for their branch of service.
Taps was played. Slowly and with dignity. Those who made public comments reminded us that each grave represented an individual whose life is celebrated because they fought to keep America free. No, they do not give us our freedom. God has given us that but these people we remember for ensuring our freedom is still honored and lived.
We take this for granted. We shouldn’t.
When the ceremony concluded we made our way to the crates of wreaths. The heady scent of Fraser fir drifted on the light breeze. I had sponsored 5 wreaths so I took those to a stark row of white marble headstones. We had been asked, when laying the wreath, to speak aloud the name of the soldier honored and for a few moments pause out of respect and gratitude.
This brought more than a few tears for me. Nationalism is not a bad thing. Having respect for what one’s country represents is important. I don’t mean to the point where it is an end in itself. This country was founded by those who wanted to live God-given lives of freedom and order, not under tyranny or political strife. America is not in a good place today and I cannot for the life of me figure out why there are those who hate America, the Constitution and our laws created to protect this country. The founders fought and worked hard to establish America to provide good life for people who also want to work hard. The generosity of Americans is staggering. Yet that generosity ought to be honored, not abused.
The soldiers buried in that cemetery believed in this country and believed in fighting for those beliefs. I’m glad to have been a part of showing them we respect that.
And still remember.
“and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” –John 8:32 NASB