Recently in Houston, Texas, hundreds gathered at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery to pay respect to those who had served and have since passed away. It was a ceremony held in 816 veterans’ cemeteries throughout the country by the Wreaths Across America organization, which is run entirely on the goodwill and appreciation of volunteers and donors. In Houston, 12 people organize their WAA branch but they tell me they are “happy to take more volunteers”. As you can see from this schedule and the following photos I took, these 12 did a tremendous job putting the event together:
8:00am Shuttle & METRO services begin
- The bus driver who drove my bus told me he volunteers every year to be a part of this event and that local counties have donated at least 4 buses for WAA.
8:15am Trucks & Motorcycle Escort will arrive.
- (From the WAA-H website) “Early on Saturday morning, on the day of the event, the trucks line up and several hundred motorcycles fall into formation to form a rolling tribute. The police escorted procession travels to the cemetery where the trucks will be offloaded and the wreaths placed. This video shows the 2010 escort, an amazing site to see.”
9:00am Viewing of Several Attractions – visitors center, Liberty Bell, Fallen Heroes Wall, Signature Banner
SIGNATURE BANNER 2012
WALL OF HEROES
11:00am Ceremony begins
- At 11 a.m. CST, a moment of silence began for all who served and are now buried on the hallowed grounds. The moment was coordinated beautifully throughout the United States by the volunteers of WAA. After the moment of silence there was a young man who spoke of fallen heroes and told stories he’d heard.
I took some pictures from the back and scoped things out. The first thing I noticed was how many youth were welcomed there, for which I gave my own silent prayer of thanks. As more parents make it a priority to bring their children to this type of event, their children will likely grow to make it a priority in their own lives to keep coming back.
The next thing I noticed was the leather vests with patches on their backs that read “Patriot Guard Riders”. They were staunchly holding the American flags, lining the walkway into the arena with pride and dignity.
As I made my way further to the front, I watched as a young group played Amazing Grace on bagpipes. After that the Houston WAA Director, Scott DiMassi, gave thanks to all volunteers including the approximately 400 motorcycle escort participants. Mr. DiMassi poignantly talked about childhood, how much simpler things were then and how we are all able to feel safe in our little worlds because of the men and women who serve in our United States military. The people serving “don’t enjoy the day to day experiences of a home life, helping kids with homework, being home in time for dinner,” but instead have volunteered to be in service for all of America, keeping us safe despite not knowing if they will ever return to their own families safely again.
“That’s what Wreaths Across America is about,” DiMassi said. “I can’t pay that debt back, but I can sure as heck pay it forward and this is the way we do it, starting here, today.”
“Today we’re laying wreaths just like this in 816 cemeteries just like this. We’re on aircraft carriers, in 6 different countries, on 4 different continents…They all started with that moment of silence. 816 other places did the exact same thing you did,” said DiMassi.
As the wreaths were being laid, DiMassi instructed the volunteers where and how to lay the wreaths. “This isn’t a race, take your time,” he said. “We’ve got all day. We have 39, 280 wreaths.”
The ceremony began with a short prayer after which the people moved out toward the plots.
I walked around and took more pictures, speaking to folks along the way. Some were not related to anyone buried here, but were simply here to “pay it forward.” Some were retired military. “Long ago, retired. 1967,” said retired soldier Rich.
What I enjoyed most of this experience is not only the love and sense of community and true Americanism, but that everyone here was doing their part to serve in the capacity they could. The attending children will learn patriotism that they can talk to their friends and classmates about. I’m grateful to the WAA-Houston; it was an honor to visit each of these sites, wreath in hand, lay it down, fluff the ribbon, say the name on the marker aloud and then pray assurance that this life did not serve America in vain nor go unforgotten in years gone by.
Each individual wreath purchased through WAA is only $15, with options to do more than one. There is a list of sponsors who support and volunteer annually but WAA has made a way for groups to participate via your own personal group page through their website. If you’re interested, they are always seeking volunteers. Please contact them and sign up so next year you will have a profound way in which to show your respect in memory of those who have given you that feeling of security you’ve known since childhood.