Wreath convoy makes stop in Stevensville
STEVENSVILLE — A solemn occasion stoked in tradition, the American Legion Post 278 was full of people volunteering for Wreaths Across America. On Thursday evening, Dec. 17, the smell of pork tenderloin filled the hall and ceremonially decorated Christmas trees imbued the room with light and a reverent energy. Elvis’s Blue Christmas is chimed in.
This convoy of police cars, firetrucks and a tractor trailer full of wreaths came to Stevensville
to eat and rest after a long journey from Maine to Maryland, after making stops in New York, New Jersey and Delaware. This is the founder’s, Morrill Worcester’s route, but Wreaths Across America has grown into a national movement. This year they will place 250,000 wreaths in Arlington National Cemetery.
Although all the care and attention was present, there was a sense that COVID had cut the event in half. Half the decorations, half the food and half the kids waving flags. And not as many donations.
“We used to do 30 or 40 trees. This is all we could do this year,” said Nikki Randolph, who works for the Department of the Interior. She is a location coordinator for Wreaths Across America. There were three trees.
“We make a sizable donation for Wreaths Across America for next year’s release. So the wreaths that are coming to me this year were purchased last year. It comes with a little tag that says, ‘Today I place a tag to read in the honor of an American hero.’ Our mission is to remember, honor and teach,” she said.
“We go out to lay the wreaths tomorrow. Because me and the guys are going to all the tiny cemeteries that people have forgotten about and have veterans in them. I hold the wreath in front of them. I read their headstone and say their name. We tell them that we remember them,” she said.
She organizes three meals for the convoy. Dinner, breakfast and a box lunch.
Jennifer Adcock drove all the way from North Carolina to be with the team in Arlington. This is her 11th year participating.
“I was raised to share the respect and thankfulness. Remember honor and teach is the mission 100 percent,” said Adcock.
“It is not the government providing all the wreaths. It is individuals, businesses, it’s corporations that sponsor wreaths and that is how they get placed,” she said.
Laurie Eisenhower came all the way from Oxford, North Carolina to join the group. “If you are in a cemetery and you see a kid laying a wreath in Arlington, that is going to stick with that child for the rest of their lives. It’s an amazing organization and it will change your life,” she said.
And although they kept the tradition alive this year, it was much different than it would normally be. “This room would be packed full of people. This year it is so limited because of COVID. But you are going to see a room full of love, appreciation and patriotism,” Adcock trailed off as struggled to hold back tears.
Adcock said she takes picture requests from families who want a shot of the wreath on their loved one’s gravestone. Over one hundred pictures are shot and emailed to the family who could not be there.
Randolph makes an effort to find lost grave sites. “I get out and say cool this is a cemetery. I get out and read every gravestone. And there are ones that are veterans. I dig out the graves that have been overtaken by the trees and limbs.”
She said, “My next project is to find an Eagle Scout for him to raise enough money for us to buy little veterans plaques that stand up and fit next to the grave. So we can easily find them...and to get every veterans grave in Queen Anne’s County veteran’s markers.”
She said they have even found a couple of Civil War stones.
“We do a lot for veterans and their families. That’s what we do and it is very rewarding. It really makes you feel good.” Said Nola Willis of Queenstown, who is the district president for the auxiliary.
The following morning a parade like scene took place in front of the VFW. A huge fire truck extended its ladder all the way out into the middle of the road. At the end, a large American flag. Standing beside the fire truck, a little kid with his dad waved a tiny American flag. On the opposite side of the street, a line of about 75 school kids were given little flags on sticks. It was cold, but the kids were thrilled.
Chevy after Chevy leaves the VFW all emblazoned with Wreath Across America signs. Police flashed their lights and blared their sirens. Loud and proud. Finally a big tractor trailer pulls out of the VFW — the mothership with all the wreaths aboard on their way to Arlington. The truck honks as the children voiced their excitement.
“The three objectives of the Wreaths Across America mission are to remember our fallen heroes, honor those who currently serve, and teach younger generations the value of freedom. It’s that last objective that most would agree is vital.
President Ronald Reagan may have said it best when he said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”