Distributing Wreaths to Remember Veterans

Distributing Wreaths to Remember Veterans


Hanson: They got a hold of an organization
we belong belong to down here in the in the metropolitan DC area, The Maine State Society. It’s a social group that most states have
have a social group and they asked for some help and Morrel said – that he says I was there
in 1992 but I can’t find anything for sure that says, I was. My name is not on a piece
of paper or in a photograph anything I could find and but from from ’93 on, I was there
to unload boxes of wreaths and and start to put them down. We had a gentleman from the society who was
kind of the coordinator, just contacting Arlington to make an arrangement. What section they want us to cover and
things like that. And he had done that from from ’92 to 2005. Iskra: Wow. Hanson: In 2005, he kind of said he was getting tired
or getting old and somebody else had to step up. So, Wayne stepped up and I took over as the coordinator
for the society with Arlington. And that was the same year that that iconic
picture was taken of the – by an Air Force photographer who happened to be one of the volunteers because
Morrel had never set out or look for any publicity for what he was doing, it was just his personal
tribute to the veterans. And at that time the internet was available,
and he put that on the internet. And that was the same year that I took over
as the coordinator and that’s when everything hit the fan and people started saying that
was all fake, that they would have heard about this. Iskra: (chuckles) They said it was false news and everything
and they started checking and finding out that no, he had been doing that all those
years and the following year where they had coverage from Japan and all over the world. (They) sent people down to Arlington on Wreath Day
to see that this was actually happening. And when it became newsworthy, people said,
“Gee, we want to help Morrel remember the veterans.” So, they started sending him money and saying,
“Hey, we want to help, how can we help,” and Morrel again, wasn’t a 501c3 organization,
he was in the profit business. So he actually had to hire somebody to track
the funding wherever possible and return it wherever possible. Iskra: Because he wasn’t, at this point, he
had never thought about making a nonprofit. He was just like, it’s just what I’m doing. Hanson: His personal tribute. So he, his family
got together when they when these people across the country started saying we want to help
and they said, “hey, you know, it’s it’s this people out there that want to help us remember
the veterans and honor them. Let’s put in for 501c3.” So the family got together, his wife, Karen
and his kids got together and they put in paperwork in 2006 and we were approved in
2007. And that’s the birth of your organization
known as Wreaths Across America in 2007. Iskra: Interesting. So, of course, we can see what Wreaths does
at Arlington every December. Hanson: Yes. Iskra: What else does the organization do? Is it just Arlington now? Hanson: We we started with Arlington, that
one location. At when we were formed as a 501c3 we increased
it to a couple hundred locations. We wanted to do the national cemeteries and
state veterans cemeteries wereever could, we needed to have a coordinator who would agree
to holding the ceremony and things like that. But we’ve grown from that one location back
in 2000. Or really, 1992 last year we had over 1,700
locations. Iskra: Wow
Hanson: All across the country. Iskra: So, this is this is going beyond National
Cemetery, state cemeteries. Hanson: Yes. Hanson: Yeah, we have any place that has veterans
and has a person who will be a what we call a location coordinator holding the ceremony
on Wreath Day – Wreath Day is always the same all across the country. With a few exceptions, like at West Point,
they do them a little bit earlier because the cadets leave for the holidays and like
that, but we try to have a ceremony and we try to coordinate our ceremonies that we say
start your ceremony wherever you are – start it at noontime eastern time, because that’s
the time that we are completing our work at Arlington, which we start earlier at Arlington. And we end our ceremony day at Arlington at
the Tomb of the Unknowns placing a special wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at noontime
and we figure what we’re requesting our other coordinators do if they start their ceremonies
around that same time, basically all across the country, we have a moment of silence and
appreciation for our veterans going on at the same time. Iskra: Interesting. Interesting. So it’s a coordinated moment of silence. Hanson: Yes. Iskra: Very good. Wayne, why after retirement? And you’ve been doing this a long time after
your retirement. Why is it important for you – And why is it important for other veterans
to serve organizations like Wreaths Across America after their military service? Hanson: I’ll tell you a story that happened
back in 2013. Iskra: Okay
Hanson: Up to that period of time, we weren’t able to cover all of Arlington. You know, we didn’t have enough sponsorships
to help us. We rely on individual sponsorships and some
corporate donations. We get no government funding, but in 2013
my wife and I do what we call a special request where someone last year we’ll say section
52 was covered that the cemetery officials would assign us different sections in the
cemetery that they wanted covered each year because we were unable to cover the whole
cemetery. So they moved us around and will say that
section 52 was covered last year. So it wasn’t scheduled to be covered this year
in 2013, but we have somebody that lives out in California or Washington State and they
say, hey, my husband’s buried in Section 52. And I know that 52 was covered last year,
but I’ve sponsored a couple of wreaths and I want to make sure that my husband gets gets
a wreath. Would you do that special request for us. So my wife and I go in after Wreath Day and
spend the next few days doing these special requests, Iskra: Oh wow.
Hanson: And we were doing – I was
carrying a wreath into a section that wasn’t supposed to be covered, but had 50 or 60 wreaths
scattered and this big section. And as I’m walking by, there’s a gentleman
standing in the cemetery because it’s holidays, and many people visit Arlington. And as I walked by him, he stopped me and
said, “excuse me, what are all these wreaths?” And he’s looking across the street and sees
the section next to it, they’re completely covered. And there’s a few scattered in the section
we’re standing in, so I probably tell them about Wreaths Across America, and we’re there
to remember, honor and teach and to thank the service members for their service and
sacrifice. And he said, four words to me that keep me
going every day now. He says, “What about my son?” And he happened to be standing in front of,
of his son’s marker, and it just so happened that the line coming up to where his sons
marker was there was four or five wreaths in a row. And you know, it ended and his son didn’t have
a wreath. And it it it really hit me hard and it does
today every time we think about I tear up a little I said, “jeez, how many other people
come to Arlington, and as a coordinator that’s that’s the one
I was concerned with most is how many come to Arlington when that last wreath is placed
and their loved one; their their mother, father, sister, brother, aunt or uncle, whatever –
doesn’t have a wreath. Fortunate we had an extra one that we gave
him so he had one, but you know it it I made a promise to myself right then I said, I’ve
got to do whatever I can to make sure we cover Arlington, but then this year will have close
to 1800 locations and all of those don’t get filled. Iskra: Yeah. Hanson: And and we don’t want to forget our
Veterans we you know the old saying you die twice. You die once when your heart stops beating
and you take that final breath. But you die a final time when your name is
spoken by somebody for the last time and then you’re forgotten. Iskra: Yeah. Hanson: And we don’t want to forget our Veterans. That’s why we we tell our volunteers at all
of our locations – when you place that wreath, say that name
out loud, so they’re not forgotten. Thank them for their service and sacrifice,
but say the name. And that’s what we need people to come in
and help us, the volunteers, and the veterans to realize that, hey, these guys and ladies
have died, either in service or after their service, protecting the freedoms that we have. And that’s why we want to teach the kids we
tell the kids, when you place that wreath down, take down a name, we’ve got the internet
now in Google, you can Google that person. Find out about them learn a little bit about
them. I call Arlington, a library, because behind
every stone there’s a story. Learn that story, pass it on to somebody.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *