LINCOLN – Back on May 21, Armed Forces Day, Ed Fox couldn't believe his eyes when nearly 400 folks from all over the southern New England trekked to the Senior Center to witness the unveiling of the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The outing was held on a sunny Saturday, and an impressive list of state and military leaders took part. Fox admitted being so moved, he had to fight back tears at the event's solemn beauty.
It turned out to be a dream come true for Fox, his wife, Patty, and fellow veteran and pal, Joe Buss, all of whom worked together to fund-raise for and order the magnificent black granite stone.
As weeks and months passed, however, Ed Fox became rather melancholy. The U.S. Army veteran, one who fought in the TET Offensive, often wondered, “So that's it? Now that the dedication is over, are we (as Vietnam vets) forgotten? Are we forgotten again?”
Fox uttered those words Thursday afternoon inside a conference room at The Center, just yards away from the memorial he helped make possible. He nevertheless did so with his patented smile.
Thanks to his long-time spouse, the Foxes officially announced they will host at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial a “Wreaths Across America” event on Saturday, Dec. 10, at noon sharp.
At that time, veterans from every facet of the military will lay a 20-inch, green Christmas/holiday remembrance wreath in a semi-circle around the stone. The ceremony will occur at the exact same time (based on Eastern Standard Time) that other such symbols will be placed on thousands of veterans' graves at over 400 participating locations around the nation – and the globe.
“I'm looking forward to it because the wreaths will represent not only every branch of the military but also veterans of every war,” Fox stated Thursday. “By conducting this ceremony, our memorial will become a single spot where veterans of all wars will be remembered, at Christmastime, for their service to their country.”
Patty indicated she discovered the “Wreaths Across America” organization while she planned the May 21 fete.
“I found it on the Internet; I was just looking for information that would help us with ideas for the memorial's dedication,” she noted. “They had little 'Thank You' cards on sale, so we purchased about 1,000 of them to present to veterans at our event.
“After we saw that over 400 people had signed the guest book, Ed asked me to go back on-line and find out more about 'WAA,' so I did,” she continued. “We both wanted a fresher way to honor and memorialize not just Vietnam vets but all veterans, and we figured it would be especially timely during the Christmas season.”
Patty learned that the “Wreaths Across America” campaign had been founded by Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Co. located in Harrington, Me. As a 12-year-old boy delivering the Bangor Daily News, he won a trip to Washington, D.C., and his visit to the Arlington National Cemetery made an indelible impression on him.
According to the Web site, www.Wreathsacrossamerica.org ., “In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country's veterans.
“With the help of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery, a section which had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.”
A number of organizations and businesses, not to mention volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW posts, gathered with residents to decorate each wreath with traditional, hand-tied red bows. In addition, members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, and it included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“The annual tribute went on quietly for several years,” the story on the Web site revealed, “until 2005 … (That's) when a photo of the stones at Arlington – adorned with wreaths and covered in snow – circulated around the Internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention.
“Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country … people wanting to help with Arlington; to emulate the Arlington project at their national and state cemeteries; or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation's heroes,” it continued. “Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester began sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military, and for POW/MIAs.”
In 2006, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies were held at over 150 locations around the country, and the Patriot Guard Riders volunteered to escort the wreaths' trip to Arlington. That started what became the annual “Veterans Honor Parade” that travels the East Coast every early December.
The following year, the Worcester family – along with vets, other groups and individuals who had helped with the annual Christmas wreath ceremony in Arlington – formed “Wreaths Across America.”
It's a national non-profit, 501-(c)3 organization that would continue and expand the effort, and also support other groups throughout the land who wanted to get involved.
Its motto is simple and clear: “Remember. Honor. Teach.”
Congress voted unanimously to make Dec. 13, 2008 “Wreaths Across America Day,” and – now – the second Saturday of December serves as the same.
In 2010, “WAA” and the national network of volunteers laid over 200,000 memorial wreaths at 545 locations in the United States – and beyond. Ceremonies were conducted at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, not to mention Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites of the Sept. 11 tragedies.
That was accomplished with the aid of 902 fund-raising groups, corporate contributions and donations of trucking, shipping and thousands of helping hands.
With all that information, Patty Fox began pulling the pieces together to formulate a like ceremony for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in October.
She asked for and received permission from Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond to hold the ceremony at The Center, then registered with the “WAA.” She currently is awaiting delivery of seven wreaths to be placed on stands donated by Ed's cousin, Marie Goucher-Walkow, who works at Joe's Flower Shop in Cumberland.
“When I called Joe Almond, he was more than excited,” she chuckled. “He said, 'That's excellent. This is your town, so go for it!' … I thought (what the 'WAA” was doing) was a beautiful tribute to our veterans. I also found it interesting that it offers a teaching program for schools, the Boy and Girl Scouts and similar organizations.
“They want to teach them about our veterans and the different wars. That's why they have the motto, 'Remember our veterans; Honor our veterans; Teach our children about our veterans.
“During the memorial dedication, I wanted the middle school to be involved, and we had about 15 students pass out those 'Thank You' cards from 'WAA' to the veterans who were present,” she added. “In an effort to incorporate the 'teaching children' part, we'll have members of Boy Scout Troop 711 (of Lincoln) present the corresponding military branch veterans with a wreath, and they will walk together to the matching stand for the wreath-laying.”
Those seven branches include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and POW-MIA. Each wreath will have on it not only a red ribbon, but also a miniature U.S. and appropriate branch flag.
Patty mentioned this gathering in Lincoln will be somewhat different, because most ceremonies will be held at veterans' cemeteries.
A vast number of civic groups around the nation have joined with “WAA” to promote sponsored wreaths to be placed on veterans' grave sites in designated sections of participating cemeteries. Each year, the sections are rotated to eventually include all vets.
This year, it's projected that over 160,000 volunteers will take part in the campaign. WAA officials call what the Foxes are doing “a ceremonial event,” she said.
“I like the fact it will be held simultaneously, regardless of time zone,” offered Ed, a lifetime member of the Vietnam Veterans of America/Chapter 818. “The whole world is going to honor our veterans at the exact same second. That's pretty amazing; it obviously takes synchronization, but there's no stopping us. Not the weather, not anything. I think it's pretty cool.
“This is a chance for people, for fellow veterans and family members or friends, to just stop for a few moments around Christmas and remember our fallen veterans, and also those still living.”
Patty promised she'd do everything she could to make this ceremony an annual event.
“We haven't had a whole lot of time to put this together, but we'd love to do this every year during the Christmas season. Honoring the sacrifices of our fallen and living veterans would be great, but this also is to support our active military men and women. It's just a matter of time before they'll be called veterans as well.”
Ed simply noted, “Now there's a focus to this memorial again. I couldn't be happier.”