Any form of philanthropy can be a learning experience, if you pay attention. When you’re opting to give up a piece of yourself, your time, a possession, or your money it is important to pay attention to the effort involved and the potential takeaways. Back when I was in high school philanthropy during the holidays meant giving a new unwrapped toy, or donating cans to a food drive. Paying homage to soldiers that have served our country never came to mind as a way to give back during the season of giving. For me, the meaning of seasonal giving changed this year. In my attendance this year at the annual Wreaths Across America event, with American Military University, my perception on seasonal philanthropy completely changed.
Symbolically we’re programmed to see certain shapes as representative for the holiday season. There’s gingerbread men, Christmas trees, stars, Santa Claus, snowflakes, and wreaths all made to represent one or more holidays in the winter. These symbols have their own meaning to different people. For example, a wreath for many is representative of a Christian adornment to mark the Christmas season. For those that have participated in Wreaths Across America it means something entirely different. This year the WAA organization was able to place a wreath on all 230,000 graves in Arlington National Cemetery, and that’s a small drop in the bucket of more than 700,000 wreaths placed worldwide. In respect to the Jewish soldiers that served our country the stones marked with the Star of David did not get a wreath, but they were honored nonetheless.
On that Saturday, December 13, 2014 I, along with more than 500 AMU wreath volunteers, learned numerous things about the tradition and honor of wreath laying. One of the things we all learned that day was that there was a great possibility that many of the graves had not been visited in years, if not longer than that. So it was an opportunity for those attending to connect with, and pay their respects to the graves they garnished a wreath with. The education didn’t end there, several AMU staff members spoke to the volunteers about some of the famous names buried in Section 3. For example, two Tuskegee airmen were buried in the section covered by AMU volunteers. We also came across the stones belonging to two of the three Apollo 1 astronauts, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee .
It was a great history lesson for those in attendance, as well as a sobering sight seeing so many stones honoring the fallen. George’s history lesson also included a bit of trivia. Did you know that there are only two presidents buried in Arlington? Can you guess the two? They are President John F. Kennedy and President William Howard Taft. Some other great nuggets of wisdom came in the form of showing respect for one another, as well as the proper way to place the wreath on the stone; at a 45 degree angle with the bow at the top.
Education comes in many different forms. For this special event it was somberly represented by a wreath. Even though the event made you stop and pause to reflect on the lives of these soldiers and their families, there were plenty of smiling faces that were more than thrilled to be there. Most takeaways from the event include the breadth of history surrounding the cemetery, and the fact that there were more than 1,000 other cemeteries participating in the event. Our learning is never done, and it’s nice to have an event with this type of significance to remind us of that fact. To keep in the good spirit of educating one another take a moment to review additional insights from fellow AMU staff and students below.
- Wreaths Across America Honors All in Arlington National Cemetery
- Celebrating Family, Freedom and Fitness
- Corporate Philanthropy: How Wreaths Brought Thousands Together
- Ray of Light Shines Down on Grave During Wreaths Across America
- The War Experience and the Importance of “Wreaths Across America”
- Wreaths Across America 2014: A Volunteer’s Story
- Honoring Those Who Sacrificed Everything, One Wreath at a Time
By J. Mason
Online Learning Tips Editor