Friday, December 15, 2017

Wreaths Across America Caravan from the eyes of a Windham volunteer by Cindy DeCosta

Wreaths Across America makes a stop in Windham
“By the dawn’s early light,” it all began. What an appropriate time to start the first portion of the Wreaths Across America (WAA) trek.

Sunday, December 10, was our first day on the road with the convoy that began in Harrington, ME as we headed toward Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Truckers carrying more than 1 million wreaths for 1,422 locations across the country were loaded and ready to roll.

Ceremony on the bridge between Calais and St. Stephen
Though Sunday was the official start date of the convoy, many of us gathered the day before, on Saturday, for a day full of events that included a dinner and sermon at Balsam Valley Chapel in Columbia Falls, ME.

Most of us involved in the WAA Caravan were meeting for the first time but camaraderie develops quickly when on a mission such as this. We began with a sunrise ceremony at Quoddy Light House in Lubec followed by breakfast at Washington County Community College in Calais.

The second ceremony took place on the bridge between Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. It is an annual ceremony of honor, referred to as the Honoring Allies Remember Together (H.A.R.T). This is a joining of two countries to respect those who have lost loved ones while serving during wartime.

The American families are designated as Gold Star Families and the Canadian families are referred to as Silver Cross Families. These families were accompanied by the Maine Wing of the Civil Air Patrol and the Royal Canadian Air Cadets. at the halfway point of the bridge, the Gold Star Families presented wreaths to the Canadian families.

They then walked across the border into Canada to lay a wreath at the war memorial monument. For those who are not familiar with the term, the Gold Star designation is given to family members who
have lost a loved one in military service. The Canadian Silver Cross holds the same meaning.

We are traveling with hundreds of others to pay respect to our service men and women who lie at rest in Arlington National Cemetery by placing wreaths at every headstone. This is by no means a direct path there. During our seven days on the road, we will be visiting schools, veterans’ homes, town squares, and other locales to deliver the mission of Wreaths Across America- Remember, Honor and Teach.

This tradition of placing wreaths at Arlington began in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company had a surplus of 5,000 wreaths. When Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington was 12 years old, he had traveled to Washington D.C. and the impression of Arlington Cemetery has always stayed with him. He decided that the extra wreaths should be placed there.

The Worcesters (left) with the Donlons
Worcester made plans with his family about taking those wreaths and placing them at Arlington. His idea grew and developed and, quickly, others got involved. The Worcesters continued to quietly place wreaths, with a small group, each year until 2005.

A picture of these wreaths adorning the cemetery hit the internet and this brought in thousands of requests from people wanting to help. And, thus, Wreaths Across America, as you know it today, began.
The Donlons speak at Windham High School
The WAA Caravan started the trek at the Narraguagus High School in Harrington on Sunday. After a hearty breakfast provided by the school staff, an escort briefing and a blessing of the fleet, we headed out.

Leaving town, we were escorted by local fire departments and police departments from across the state. We had 12 official convoy vehicles, 2 buses, 2 vans, a spattering of personal vehicles and many tractor-trailers carrying the wreaths. It has been estimated that the convoy was 5 miles in length.

What a sight to be a part of. It is difficult to explain the wave of emotions that you feel when seeing people lining both sides of the street waving flags and signs. Many of the towns and cities on our route were lining the streets with their fire trucks while offering sirens as a form of welcome and honor.

The vehicles that my husband Tim and I have been assigned to drive are wrapped with the Wreaths Across America graphics. While this is impressive, it’s the people who are our traveling companions that truly humble me.

On Saturday we had the distinct honor of spending the day with the Grand Marshalls of the convoy, Colonel Roger and Norma Donlon from Kansas. Norma Donlon is a Gold Star wife.  Her first husband, John Irving Jr. was killed during the Vietnam War at 22 years old. Colonel Donlon served in both the Air Force and the Army. During his time in the Army he was as a member of the Special Forces Team.
Donlon was the first American to be awarded the Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War. He is a humble man who during a 5-hour heavy mortar battle in Nam Dong in the Republic of Vietnam, fought to save his men after being shot seven times himself. His story is that of a true hero. Sunday my husband and I began our journey with the Blue Star Family of John and Linda Billings. Blue Star families have a member serving during war time. The Billings’ son, John, is currently in the Maine
Army National Guard.

Our final stop on Sunday was at Windham High School. Being a graduate of Windham High, I was
excited and proud that the convoy was able to stop here. However, nothing prepared me for the sights when we approached the school. The first wave of emotions came when we approached the beautifully decorated rotary where Windham Law Enforcement waited to escort us into the school.

Then as we neared the intersection of Route 202 and School Road, there hung the American flag over the road between two ladder fire trucks. It was illuminated brightly against the black sky and provided the backdrop for the community members who were waiting there to watch us pass. I thought that I could not be more proud of my home town; but then we arrived at the school and there was a crowd welcoming us with cheers and applause. Thank you to all who came out to attend this event.

On Monday, December 11, we continued our trip toward Arlington Cemetery and when I return, I
will share that portion of our trip with you.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of Wreaths Across America, take time out during this hectic season to Remember, Honor and Teach.


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