By: Aylin Elmali
This past weekend on December 13, 2015, my sister Melissa and I had the honor of attending the annual Wreaths Across America ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. We’ve been attending these ceremonies since 2010. Every year we drive down to the nation’s capital for the opportunity to lay wreaths at the graves of a deceased soldier. It may not seem like much, but combined with the efforts of all the volunteers we usually can cover almost the entire cemetery. It’s quite a sight to see rows and rows of graves with wreaths on them. It’s especially personal for us, since my mom has a friend whose father is buried there. Every year we go, we always make sure that his grave has a wreath.
Not every grave gets a wreath, however. Graves that have a star of David or some other religious symbol are left alone, since those soldiers have a different religious preference. But it’s an unwritten rule that we can put coins or stones on their graves instead. I always carry some spare change with me to make sure no soldier is forgotten. Most of the graves in Arlington National Cemetery have soldiers from older wars such as WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War. But the saddest part is seeing the newer, cleaner graves. If you visit the more recent section, you may find graves of soldiers who died only a few months prior. Most of these graves don’t even have stones yet; they simply have temporary markers since the deaths was so recent. Some have extra decorations on them, put there by the family members of that soldier. Many veterans as well as active soldiers can be found at this ceremony, but anyone can attend.
This year, the number of people who volunteered to be in the ceremony was quite unbelievable. The subway stations going to Arlington were very crowded, and the cemetery itself was mobbed. There were swarms of people waiting for the chance to receive a wreath to place. It seems strange, because the first time we went we were joined by only a few thousand other volunteers. But that number has quickly grown in a span of only a few years. It’s a joy to know that so many people are willing to travel from all over the country to honor the soldiers who paid the ultimate price to defend America.
The Wreaths Across America ceremony is growing in popularity, but it still needs help. Often times there aren’t enough funds to buy enough wreaths for all the soldiers in the cemetery, since their funding comes entirely from donations. Each wreath costs $15. Even if you can’t attend the ceremony, you can still help by sponsoring a wreath from home. With enough pitching in, we can all help to see that no soldier is forgotten and live by the WAA motto: Remember. Honor. Teach.
If you would like to learn more about Wreaths Across America or sponsor a wreath, please visit http://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/