Wreaths Across America convoy to make a stop in Delaware

SMYRNA — The Wreaths Across America convoy is on its way Thursday to Delaware with a final destination of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The large rolling motorcade will  make a special stop for a ceremony at the Smyrna Rest Area on 5500 North DuPont Highway from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The convoy is also scheduled to make two brief stops at Silver Lake Elementary School in Middletown at 9 a.m. and Magnolia Fire Company in Magnolia at 1 p.m.

Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, observed annually on the third Saturday in December, coordinated wreath-laying ceremonies take place at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as over 1,200 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.

Ahead of wreath-laying, a large convoy assembles in Columbia Falls, Maine, where Wreaths Across America is headquartered and all the wreaths are made. From there, they begin a tour that terminates at the national cemetery.

Patriot Guard Motorcycle groups, like this one, will provide an escort for the Wreathes Across America convoy when it arrives in the state on Thursday. (Submitted photo)

“It’s a very large escort — we call it the ‘world’s longest veteran’s parade,” said Amber Caron, spokeswoman for Wreaths Across America. “It will include 10 tractor-trailers hauling wreaths, 16 SUVs, a Camaro, a bus carrying gold star families. Patriot Guard Riders and other motorcycle clubs and police officers from every city we drive through. It is often over a mile long.”

Ms. Caron says the organization collects donations that sponsor about 1.2 million wreaths to be placed in cemeteries all over the country. An estimated 245,000 wreaths will be placed in Arlington National Cemetery alone.

“Last year about 70,000 volunteers showed up to help us lay wreaths at graves,” said Ms. Caron. “It’s Arlington’s biggest event. This year there will be more wreaths because it’s a very active cemetery. Last year it took about four hours to lay out the wreaths and will probably take about the same amount of time this year depending on how many people come out. We don’t rush people though, this is not about decorating graves, we are honoring people’s lives. We ask everyone to take a moment of silence, read person’s names out loud, look at the stone and take some time.”

Alongside a group of enthusiastic volunteers, Delaware’s Gold Star representative and Gold Star chairperson for the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter 83, Judy Campbell, helped organize the special visit to the Smyrna Rest Area when she was contacted by Wreaths Across America back in May.

“Normally the venues they stop at honor Gold Star families, which are families of fallen military service men and women, but other service branches will be honored at the event too,” said Ms. Campbell.

“The Adjutant General of the Delaware National Guard will present the armed forces wreath, Colonel Dawn Lancaster of the Dover Air Force Base mortuary affairs will present the Dover wreath, Chief William Bryson and Chief Jeffrey Horvath will present the Delaware law enforcement wreath and Terry Jester, who’s president of the Delaware Fire Chiefs Association will present the fire and ems wreath — we all know that Delaware has suffered great losses there recently.”

Afterward, each representative will take a wreath back and display it in an appropriate memorial location, she added.

Although Wreaths Across America has been making this pilgrimage since 2007, this is the first time Delaware Vietnam Veterans of America Gold Star Program and representatives of Delaware Law Enforcement Community have joined forces to host a brief service of honor and remembrance.

The service will also include a host of memorial themed activities to include the playing of the National Anthem, TAPS and Amazing Grace by the Delaware State Police Pipes and Drums Corps. Junior ROTC members will escort Gold Star families to reserved seating.

Ms. Campbell, who is a gold star family member herself, said that reaching out and honoring dead loved ones who died in service is an important component to grieving.

“My first gold star experience, becoming a member of this family, was back in February 8, 1967, when my brother Keith Allen Campbell was killed,” she said. “Becoming a gold star family member changes you forever. We have choices to make, do we curl into a ball live with our grief

Understandably, many people do this. But life does go on, and although the impact of the loss never leaves you, time helps you control the emotions. I feel that I need to reach out to other gold star families who are now where I once was.”

Ms. Campbell’s brother was a combat medic in Vietnam. His body is interred at Arlington National Cemetery. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross and had a library in the Joint Base in San Antonio — Fort Sam Huston named in his honor, she said.

The public is welcome to attend the event, but should be aware that the rest area’s front parking lot will be closed.

“The Smyrna Rest Area has been extraordinary in helping us out with this — they’ve really pulled out all the stops even though their location is under construction,” said Ms. Campbell. “We encourage people to carpool because the front parking lot will be closed, to dress very warm and to bring out their American flags and wave them proudly.”

For more information on Wreaths Across America such as volunteer opportunities both at Arlington National Cemetery or local cemeteries receiving wreaths, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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