Without wasting a moment, and shortly after the first of every year, the preparations begin for the next Wreaths Across America event held each December…because it takes that long to put something of this magnitude together.
Even the casual observer at one of these ceremonies at any of the National Cemeteries across America has to recognize that a lot of time, planning, and money is needed to make this such a success. Additionally, it is important to note that not one of the many thousands of people involved are paid staff. This is strictly a volunteer effort where the best of the best make the calls, raise the funds, drive the miles, and just do a thousand other things to make this event more and more successful each year.
There are the fundraisers held at places like Lowe’s where men and women from groups like the Patriot Guard Riders will spend a day explaining what Wreaths Across America is all about to many of the contractors and homeowners who enter.
There are schools involved, and one had the following result. One of the Patriot Guard Riders in Palm Beach County, a man that everyone refers to as Rabbi, reported thusly.
“On December 3, 2014 the Patriot Guard Riders attended a check presentation at Renaissance Charter School, on State Rd. 7 Wellington, FL.
There were three motorcycles and one cage, Ken, Henry, John, and Rabbi.
Jack Nealy the principal presented Rabbi with a check for $4050.00 that he raised with the help of his students, to donate to Wreaths Across America, for the annual wreath laying ceremony on December 13, 2014 at the South Florida National Cemetery, in Lake Worth, Fl. Mr. Nealy Thank you very much.”
That’s what it’s all about. People in communities all across America raising the funds and volunteering to make sure that all of our men and women who have served get a wreath on their grave.
Let me also note that the ceremonies are timed so that all of the wreaths are placed at the same time across the nation, which means that many ceremonies take place in very harsh conditions.
The local event shaped up like this. On Friday morning, 12/12/14, a very chilly morning by Palm Beach standards, about 60 hardy members of the Patriot Guard Riders gathered at Harley Davidson of Palm Beach at the crack of dawn.
After the coffee was finished and the ride plans were laid out by Ride Captain Alan Cole, the kickstands went up and the procession headed up to Ft. Pierce to the Walmart Distribution Center to escort the three trucks loaded with over 13,000 wreaths bound for the National Cemetery in Lake Worth. I have to admit that sitting in the comfort of our “support cage,” it didn’t escape me that the PGR guys had to be freezing on their bikes.
Upon arrival at the Walmart Distribution Center, the enormity of what they do began to sink in. One can say what they want about Walmart; however, they step up to the plate in a very big way every year to support this amazing cause. They supply the trucks, drivers, food and refreshments for volunteers. I might add, this isn’t something they 'palm off’ to just any of their staff…every one of the Walmart people I spoke to is honored to be a part of it, and puts their heart and soul into it. The pride of guys like truck driver Larry who is a major part of this every year shines. Larry doesn’t just drive that truck, he understands that every wreath, every tear, every dollar spent, and every moment of the entire event honors our fallen, and every one of them has a story. To a lot of people that are part of the So. Florida arm of Wreaths Across America, Larry is Walmart, and he happily and humbly just does what he does. Thank you Larry and thank you Walmart. By the way, not to belabor the point, but I believe it needs to be noted that Walmart donated in excess of $102K for the So. Florida operation alone, and while I have no idea the extent of their participation nationwide, I have to believe the numbers are staggering.
So, breakfast was done, plaques and photos were presented…daylight was burning and there were wreaths to be escorted. At the stroke of 9:00 am, kickstands went up, and with FHP escorts leading the way, 13,000 wreaths were on their way to adorn the graves of fallen heroes in Lake Worth, FL.
I have to tell you, driving down the approach roads to the Florida Turnpike, watching and listening to the police escort and their sirens racing by us, stopping traffic, waving us on, and just being in the middle of such an amazing part of the process…it was very emotional. For almost the entire ride, the Channel 5 News Chopper was hovering overhead covering the ride.
Upon arrival at the Lake Worth National Cemetery, seeing the hundreds of volunteers that had assembled to help unload the trucks and neatly stack, in piles of ten, the beautifully made wreaths, was also very emotional. Not just for me, but for the handful of onlookers who were visiting their loved ones. While no one dares forget that we are on hallowed ground, sometimes those visiting graves go unnoticed. I saw and met one woman, who was visiting the grave of her husband, and was watching what was happening…she was in tears. Her tears were not just for her husband; however, she didn’t know I was covering the event, and I didn’t tell her. She just wanted to thank all of us for what we were doing, and she gave me a hug. I can’t really describe that hug…it was at once sad and happy. For just a moment in time, two strangers were brought together during an event to honor our heroes…I was misty eyed the rest of the day.
Then on Saturday, the ceremony took place, there were prayers, brief speeches by some of the many involved, and tributes to our fallen heroes and the hallowed ground we were walking on. One of the most poignant moments of the day was the special tribute paid by Mike Nuckles as he led us in a collective remembrance of the main driving force in So. Florida for this event; a friend and inspiration to so many, Melinda Galiano, who has now left us to join her dad…his own grave among those honored in Lake Worth. Fittingly, it was Melinda’s husband Gary, who very quietly and privately, laid the Wreath for Melinda’s dad.
At the conclusion of the ceremonies, all of the Wreaths that had been meticulously laid out on Friday were gently placed at the foot of each grave. Moms, dads, children of all ages, relatives of the interred heroes, and many patriotic citizens paid their respect and once again turned a field of white into a field of green and white in what seemed almost a blink of an eye. And just like that, there was a Wreath at every grave. Mission accomplished.