By Don C. Brunell, Guest Columnist
Christmas is a difficult time for anyone grieving the death of a loved one. It is especially hard when they were slain in the line of duty, while protecting our country.
It hit home again last month when Army sergeants Eric Emond, 39, of Brush Prairie, and Leandro Jasso, 25, of Leavenworth, Washington, were killed in Afghanistan. Both were experienced, elite soldiers who served multiple tours in combat zones.
Normally, the fallen are remembered on Memorial Day, but thanks to a Maine family and more than 800,000 donors and volunteers, more than 1.8 million Christmas wreaths were laid on the tombstones of our fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen this December.
Since the program started in 1992, more than 1,600 burial grounds across the nation are involved. Additionally, this year 9,400 wreaths went to the Normandy American Cemetery located in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
Thousands of family, friends, military personnel and volunteers help place the wreaths which is therapeutic.
In Washington, 24 cemeteries from Walla Walla to Port Orchard take part and there are over 50,000 veterans’ graves in which wreaths are placed. More than half go to Tahoma’s National Cemetery in Kent.
In Vancouver, Brad Carlson’s family, owners of Evergreen Memorial Gardens, works with the Lewis and Clark Young Marines to raise funds. This year they sponsored a record 2,000 wreaths — more than triple the 2017 total — and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle led the ceremony.
Joyce Durrant, of Spokane, Washington, helps organize the placement of 1,000 wreaths at Washington State Veterans Cemetery, Medical Lake. She told KHQ-6 News their family goal is to remind us that our military and their families pay a heavy price defending our freedoms and we should not forget them.
Wreaths Across America (WAA) is a privately funded charity that accepts no government money. It is strongly supported by over 100 trucking companies whose drivers voluntarily load their semi-trailers and fan out across America. They absorb all of the delivery costs and the American Independent Trucking Association contributes $50,000.
In Washington, D.C., thousands of volunteers line the road, waving flags as the caravan of trucks rolls into Arlington National Cemetery.
Founded in 1971, Worchester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Maine, is a family-owned business which grows balsam fir. It has become one of the largest wholesalers of holiday balsam products providing fresh Maine wreaths, trees and centerpieces.
WAA sprang from a Worchester gesture in 1992 when they shipped surplus wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery to be placed on headstones in an older section — the most forgotten part of the burial grounds.
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, interest in the project spiked. In fact, the Pentagon, which was struck by a jetliner on that day, is within eyesight of Arlington. In 2005, when WAA appeared on the internet with a sobering photo of thousands of snow-covered wreaths on Arlington headstones, interest and donations mushroomed.
The good news is at a time when each U.S. citizen is saddled with a $65,774 potential payment of our national debt (which, at last check, was over $21.3 trillion), WAA is independently funded.
Morrill Worchester told the Bangor Daily News his first trip to Arlington National Cemetery helped him remember those who gave everything to keep America free. Today, the WAA program helps us remember.
The wreaths provide some comfort to families and friends of America’s fallen. They also remind us not to forget those suffering with life-long mental and physical disabilities from military service.
As a special note this Christmas: In today’s terrorist infected world, we should include our law enforcement officers, emergency responders and firefighters in our thoughts and prayers. They too are in harm’s way every day.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer, columnist and retired president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization. He lives in Vancouver and can be contacted via email at theBrunells@msn.com.