Dec 14

A Morning of Service and Why I Do It.

Debbie Hatch  |  Family & F.I.T.



Saturday was the annual Wreaths Across America event.  The crowd may have been larger than normal, here in DC, (I saw 70,000 reported as the “official number”) as it was warmer than years past, with just a little fog hanging in the air.


The organization lists its mission as, “Remember, Honor, Teach.”  It is solely responsible for coordinating wreath laying ceremonies at Veterans’ cemeteries, not only in all 50 States but internationally as well.  Sadly, not every grave (not even every stone at Arlington – although you may see that reported, and I used to think that was the case too) gets a wreathe, and not every cemetery has volunteers.

Photo by Fox 26, Houston

Photo by Fox 26, Houston



But, what a huge undertaking!  And one that couldn’t be accomplished without thousands of volunteers!  Individual wreath sponsors, corporate donors, professional truck drivers, police escorts, people to lay the wreaths, and people to help pick them up once the holidays have passed.


This is my 4th year volunteering with the organization.  To see the pictures, videos, and news stories is one thing.  To be there and participate:  at any cemetery, big or small, is something different altogether.  I do this because it’s something I believe in.  That we should honor and remember the men and women who died for our country:  who served, and continue to serve, to keep us safe.  What a small price that I should pay for such a huge sacrifice.


It’s personal for me.

When your child has to have their blood type written on their pack, things get real.

When your child has to write their blood type on their pack, it tends to change your perspective.



My husband has served in the US military (USMC/USAF) for more than 20 years.  My son has more than a decade in the Army National Guard.  My daughter in law was in the Army.  My daughter was in the Air Force, and the Air Force Reserve.  Countless friends and other family members have also served.






The wreaths are from Maine – as am I.  Smelling the balsam and handling the wreaths bring back fond memories.  The escort, at Arlington, includes Maine State Police – where I worked as a dispatcher for almost 10 years.  Many of the truckers are from Maine – my husband and I know people involved in the process from the start:  we like to be at the finish to help complete the task.



Two years of volunteering specifically stick out in my memory.


Veterans Cemetary Boulder City, Nevada

Veterans’ Cemetary
Boulder City, Nevada


My first year was in Boulder City, Nevada.  I laid wreaths with a friend whose brother, a Marine, was killed in Iraq; and a friend whose husband, a Soldier, was deployed at the time.  To be with those women, in that place, at that time was incredibly emotional.









To be honest, too, the smaller cemetery was nice.  It had a little less pomp and circumstance:  more work merely for the sake of remembering and less for the accolades or newspaper photos as we sometimes see in DC.  A few friends texted us asking that we specifically seek out their family member’s stones.  We stayed until the last wreath was laid.


Veterans Cemetery Arlington, VA

Veterans’ Cemetery
Arlington, VA

My first year at Arlington was also memorable.  Wow!  There were so many people!  I checked in, on Facebook, and almost immediately received a text from my young nephew.  He had graduated from one of our military academies a few years prior, and was serving in the Army.  He wrote, “What section are you in?  I know a guy who’s there.”


I didn’t think too much about it.  My son deployed to Iraq when he was 18/19 – for the first time.  My husband has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  My daughter was in Afghanistan.  One way I kept my sanity while they were gone, is by denying the danger.  Not consciously blocking it out but, subconsciously, refusing to remember that people were fighting and dying.  That probably sounds ridiculous – and maybe it is – but that’s how my brain decided to get me through….


So, when I received my nephew’s text, I just thought he meant he knew someone who was also laying wreaths.

That’s not what he meant.




One of the men he went to college with was IN this cemetery.  Permanently.  My children know people who will never leave here; as does my husband.  It was overwhelming.  That truth.  That honest realization.  I immediately broke down in tears.  It’s making me cry now.

I laid a wreath on Lt Williamson’s grave – both that year and the next.  I didn’t get to the Lt’s stone this year.  Not yet.  I will go there when we pick up wreaths.  My nephew shared it with his family who could not be in Virginia.  It meant a great deal to them.

THAT is my biggest reason for providing this service.  That is why I lay wreaths even though the cemetery is packed with people, and it can become quite a “commercial event”.  That is why I will come back and help pick wreaths up:  an event that is attended by far, far fewer people, and not covered in the news.  Regardless of how cold it may be; regardless of whether the sun is shining, it’s snowing, or rain is falling.  I do it, because it makes a difference – to them, but also to me.

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