10 Ways to Recognize Veterans’ Day

flag_homeHave you missed the Veterans’ Day parade or the ceremony at your local VA National Cemetery?

Well, there’s still time to show your appreciation for the men and women who have served or are currently serving in the Armed Forces. Here are a few suggestions you can practice year-round:

  1. Fly the American Flag outside your home.
  2. Teach your children or grandchildren a patriotic song like America the Beautiful.
  3. Volunteer at your local VA facility.
  4. Write a letter or make a card to be delivered by Operation Gratitude which sends messages to active-duty deployed troops as well as veterans.
  5. Accompany a veteran on an Honor Flight, or be there to greet the veterans when they return.
  6. Participate in the Veterans History Project – the Library of Congress makes it easy with a step-by-step process.
  7. Visit Arlington National Cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Wall, or any of the other War Memorials or spend a quiet hour at your nearest National Cemetery.
  8. Sponsor a wreath for a veteran’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery for its 150th Anniversary or at your local VA cemetery through Wreaths Across America.
  9. Post a message of appreciation or photo from your Veterans’ Day on the WUSF Veterans Coming Home Welcome Wall.
  10. Check out the Military Avenue link on 101 Ways to Thank a Veteran.

A bonus suggestion: if you live with a veteran like I do, give him or her a hug and make their favorite meal for dinner.

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142,000 Wreaths Placed at Arlington National Cemetery

Apparently, my personal sentiment of wanting a wreath placed on the grave of my father, a World War II Navy veteran, is held by many. Here’s a video from Arlington National Cemetery of the folks who participated this year. An estimated 25,000 volunteers came out to help place the wreaths after the Wreaths Across America organization put a call out on Facebook worried that they had too many requests for wreaths and not enough volunteers.

It bolsters one’s faith in our neighbors, friends and strangers to see this kind of response and to see the number of children participating in the tradition.

In full disclosure, one of those wreaths was placed at the grave of my father-in-law, Col. Rene O. Quenneville, retired from the Army Corps of Engineers, he served in WWI and WWII. My mother-in-law is buried with him. She always placed a Christmas wreath on her front door during the holidays.

On A Personal Note: Merry Christmas Daddy!

My father's grave at Dayton National Cemetery, December 2014.

My father’s grave at Dayton National Cemetery, December 2014.

I am warmed this Christmas season knowing my father has a wreath on his grave. The Dayton National Cemetery Wreaths Across America volunteer who took the time to place it and send me a photo, Norman Spurling, has my undying gratitude. He is caring for my father’s grave. That’s a comfort since I live in Florida and don’t have ready access.

So a huge thank you to Mr. Spurling and to the volunteer who placed the wreath at my father-in-law’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. May the families of all veterans rest easier knowing there are such good people who care for those who have served.

Watch: Wreaths Across America Honors Those Lost at Sea

Sgt. Steven Thibodeau, police officer from the town of Scarborough, Maine, renders honors after placing a wreath at the grave marker during Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Dec. 14, 2013. DOD photo by Sebastian Sciotti Jr.

Sgt. Steven Thibodeau, police officer from the town of Scarborough, Maine, renders honors after placing a wreath at the grave marker during Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Dec. 14, 2013. DOD photo by Sebastian Sciotti Jr.

Veterans, families and organizations turned out Saturday for the annual Wreaths Across America celebration,  the placing of wreaths on veterans’ graves at hundreds of cemeteries locally, nationally and internationally.

A special ceremony was held in Ft. Myers for those lost at sea and never to be recovered. Here’s a video tribute from former WUSF Public Media intern and video photographer Alex Cook, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who is now working at WINK-TV in Ft. Myers.

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Fewer Holiday Wreaths Donated for Veterans’ Graves

Wreaths Across America at the Jacksonville National Cemetery.

Wreaths Across America at the Jacksonville National Cemetery.

The tradition of placing Christmas wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers and veterans started in 1992 at Arlington National Cemetery. Wreaths Across America has grown to include cemeteries in all 50 states and more than 20 cemeteries overseas.

But this year, the program is experiencing a dramatic drop in donations at Arlington and other veterans’ cemeteries.

Wreaths placed at Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell in December 2012.

Wreaths placed at Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell in December 2012.

At the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, volunteers have gathered donations and sponsors for about 5,000 wreaths. Last year, they were able to lay 7,000 wreaths and had hoped to reach a goal of 10,000 wreaths for 2013.

“With the amount of people we had last year, we figured we could do 10,000,” said Randy Lewer, a veteran an one of three veterans who started the Bushnell wreaths program. “Unfortunately with the economy, it will fall quite short.”

Lewer and two other veterans, who loved to ride motorcycles together, started Wreaths Across America in 2006 at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell with only six wreaths.

“As long as you remember somebody up here, they’ll live forever,” veteran Jack Sellers said during an interview last year. “It’s when you forget them, or never come talk to them, never speak about them, is when they’re gone.”

Veterans Randy Lewer (R), Jack Sellers (C), and Steve Leinwand (L) took on the mission to provide wreaths for the veterans buried at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. November 2012.

Veterans Randy Lewer (R), Jack Sellers (C), and Steve Leinwand (L) took on the mission to provide wreaths for the veterans buried at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. November 2012.

Sellers died this year from tumors linked to Agent Orange. The third veteran Steve Leinwand also quit volunteering for health reasons.

So that left only Lewer to carry on. He’s arranged for several speakers including MacDill Air Force Base commander Col. Scott DeThomas. And several groups have volunteered to help lay the wreaths.

Volunteers will begin laying the wreaths at about 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14, 2013 at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. A ceremony will follow with speakers and the laying of a wreath in honor of POWs and MIAs.

Lewer credits community organizations, veterans groups and companies for helping sponsor the 5,000 wreaths. They’ve already placed the order, so additional contributions to the Bushnell wreaths program will go toward next year.

However, Lewer mentioned the Arlington National Cemetery is still accepting donations, $15 per wreath, until Dec. 11, 2013.

The Sarasota National Cemetery also is still accepting donations and is only 40 percent toward its goal.

The Bay Pines National Cemetery is only 1 percent toward its goal according to the Wreaths Across America website.

You can sponsor a wreath or checkout the cemeteries participating in the program at www.WreathsAcrossAmerica.org.

You can listen to Randy Lewer’s update on the Bushnell wreaths program on WUSF News.

A Heartfelt Thank You to All the Volunteers

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2013. Photo via Twitter VAAdaptiveSport

I don’t personally know who might have placed a flag on my father-in-law’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

He and my mother-in-law are buried in the columbarium wall. So, I’m unsure if they even have an individual flag at the stone carved with their names.

What I am sure of is that even though I am unable to visit today they will be honored by all those who attend ceremonies and visit Arlington.

I am sure of the same for my father buried at the Dayton National Cemetery. He is buried on a small hill next to a young tree that surly has grown deep roots since his service.

Today, I want to thank the VA volunteers, the Boy Scouts, the various veterans organizations, all those who honor the more than three million military members buried in graves at national cemeteries.

You honor our family members who served and by doing so you honor your nation and me. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

 

Volunteers Wanted to Help Lay Wreaths on Vets’ Graves

Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell. Photo Credit: Bobbie O'Brien/WUSF

Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell. Photo Credit: Bobbie O’Brien/WUSF

You don’t have to have family or friends buried at the national cemeteries to help place wreaths on veterans’ graves. All you have to do is volunteer some of your time Saturday morning, Dec. 15, 2012.

The tradition of laying holiday wreaths on the graves of veterans started in Arlington National Cemetery and has grown to include all national cemeteries, including those in Florida.

Kurt Rotar, director of the Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell, said the hard work of raising money to pay for the wreaths is mostly done.

“Sgt. Major Dan Blackman with the Army National Guard is taking sponsorship of the St. Augustine,” Rotar said. “Jacksonville, South Florida, Sarasota all have sponsors that organize just like this group does.”

The group at Bushnell’s Florida National Cemetery will place 6,500 wreaths Dec. 15, starting at 9:45 with a ceremony at 11:00.

At Bay Pines National Cemetery, volunteers are asked to show up at 11:00 and wear gloves to protect their hands. That ceremony is at noon.

At the Sarasota National Cemetery, the wreath laying begins at 9:30 Saturday morning.

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