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Wreaths Across America Day: Honoring Our Heroes

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American flag by gravestones

A waving American flag overlooks some of the perfectly uniform rows of gravestones and wreaths representing a portion of the 90,000 veterans buried at Houston National Cemetery. 

As you are reading this article, a dozen 18-wheelers are headed south on a 2100-mile, five-day trek from Columbia Falls, Maine to Houston, Texas. The trucks are transporting 48,000 fresh evergreen wreaths purchased by the greater Houston community to honor some of Houston's most important heroes - the 90,000 veterans buried at Houston National Cemetery.  

The annual holiday tradition is coordinated by the organization Wreaths Across America, which was inspired by Maine evergreen farmer, Morrill Worcester, 25 years ago. Morrill had an annual tradition of placing his company’s extra wreaths with a single red bow on the perfectly lined white headstones at Arlington National Cemetery. In 2005, Wreaths Across America gathered many fans after a stunning photo of the wreaths in the snow was posted online and went viral.

In 2007, Scott deMasi and his son Alex, 7 years old at the time, were deeply moved by a video they saw about the Arlington Cemetery wreath program. They researched how to volunteer as a wreath layer in their hometown. 

Scott contacted Houston National Cemetery and was surprised to discover that, due to lack of funding and volunteers, the cemetery was unable to participate in the wreaths program. When he told Alex that Houston did not have the wreaths for the veterans in Houston, Alex replied with frustration: “That’s not fair. Why do their guys get wreaths and not ours?” And then later that same day: “What can one person do?” 

The heartfelt question inspired Scott to launch a Houston-area Wreaths Across America. Over a decade later, placing wreaths in Houston National Cemetery has become a mission for not only one Houston boy and his dad, but an entire community that now supports the program. 

Wreath Laying Ceremony

Spectators watch Marine Corps representatives in the Wreath Laying Ceremony at Houston National Cemetery. The 17,000 audience members will help place wreaths on 48,000 service persons' graves.

The 2021 Wreath Laying Ceremony at Houston National Cemetery will take place on Saturday, December 18, at 11 a.m. The 17,000 attendees include veterans, active military, families of loved ones buried at the cemetery, and wreath layer volunteers.  

The day will begin with a moment of silence. During the ceremony, veterans and active service members will present wreaths for each branch of the military, followed by a 21-gun salute, bagpipe music provided by the Saint Thomas' Episcopal pipe band, and a flyover. 

Then the laying of the thousands of wreaths begins. When a volunteer places a wreath on a grave, they are encouraged to speak that veteran's name aloud, thank them for their service and sacrifice, and reflect on that person and their life.

Wreaths Across America (WAA) Day ceremonies take place on the same day at over 2,800 veteran cemeteries across America. 

Linda Novosad is very thankful for Wreaths Across America at Houston National Cemetery. Her father, Col. George McDowell (Air Force/Army), her mother, Rae, and brother, Larry (Army) are all buried there.

Linda's dad, George, who served under Gen. Patton in WWII, lived in the Meyerland home where Linda grew up from 1961 until he passed away at age 103 in 2017. (George was featured in The Good Neighbor: George McDowell’s happy-hour legacy in Sept. 2018].

“It means a lot to the veterans’ families that their loved ones’ service to our country is not forgotten,” said Linda.   

Alex, who helped inspire the wreath project at Houston National Cemetery when he was 7 years old, is now a 20-year-old student at the University of North Texas. At Saturday’s ceremony, Alex will be announcing the names of each of the veterans presenting wreaths.

Headstones at Houston National Cemetery

The morning mist settles over the rows of evergreen wreaths adorning veterans' headstones at Houston National Cemetery.

Now the director of Wreaths Across America-Houston, Scott encourages everyone to experience the tradition. “Whether or not you have a relative buried at Houston National Cemetery, helping to lay a wreath is very special.  You will leave as a new person. A better person. Everyone is welcome. Just come.”

Houston National Cemetery is open for the public to come see the wreaths through January 22. Even if you do not visit the cemetery, hopefully during this busy holiday season, you can take a moment to give thanks for the many that have served our country through the years. Perhaps one of the best presents any of us could ever receive.

I would like to give a personal nod to Cmdr. Paul Kalland (Navy) who was married to my sister Kathy for 41 years. Earlier this year, Paul was buried at Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia. He is greatly missed this holiday season, but it is comforting to know that someone will be kind enough to place a beautiful wreath on his headstone. It means the world. Thank you.

This holiday season, help Wreaths Across America in honoring our American military . . . one wreath at a time.

2021 Wreath Laying Ceremony at Houston National Cemetery

Wreath Day Details: 
Sat., Dec. 18, rain or shine
Houston National Cemetery
10410 Veterans Memorial Dr., Houston, TX 77038
Ceremony begins at 11 a.m. and wreath laying begins at 11:45 a.m. 

Motorcycle escort

As a sign of respect and gratitude, during the last portion of the trip from Maine to Texas, police escorts and over 400 volunteer motorcyclists escort the 18-wheelers. 

The Motorcycle Escort:
Another touching tradition, open to all motorcyclists, is the arrival of the trucks that brought the wreaths. Early Saturday morning, the police escort the trucks to the cemetery and are followed by over 400 motorcyclists to create a rolling tribute. Delivery of the wreaths would not be possible without the time, fuel, and equipment donated by the truckers. Meet at 21770 Market Place Drive, New Caney. Find more details here.

Wreath Ceremony and Wreath Laying:
If you are interested in attending the ceremony, you simply need to be at the Houston National Cemetery before the ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Parking is limited; organizers recommend using the free shuttle from Greenspoint Mall. Shuttle and bus service runs 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Find more Wreath Day info here.  

Volunteer Opportunities:
If you’re interested in helping to volunteer, here are opportunities.
Fri., Dec. 17, 8 a.m.-3 pm.: Setting up for the ceremony
Sat., Jan. 22, 8 a.m.-12 p.m.: Clean-up day (picking up 45,000 wreaths) 

Sponsoring Wreaths: 
Donations throughout the year will be applied to the Wreaths Across America Day ceremony. Find details here.

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