BALTIMORE — Wreaths Across America was created to remember and honor our fallen heroes, while teaching others about their lives.
Each year the organization works with volunteers to place wreaths on hundreds of thousands of graves.
"It’s a promise to them that we are never going to forget the sacrifice that was made on our behalf," said Joe Reagan. He's an Army Veteran who started off as a volunteer and is now the Director of Military and Veteran Outreach for Wreaths Across America.
Reagan added, "each and every one of those tomb stones has a story behind it. I think that’s the important part, that micro-story where going and laying the wreath and saying the name of that individual is powerful and encourages you to learn more… that’s what we need more of today."
Many people believe the government funds this project but every wreath is a donation from someone in the community. "It's individual American that wants to honor a veteran. A small commitment but impactful," said Reagan.
Each wreath is $15, donated by a community member and placed on a grave by a volunteer.
Larry Acord is one man working to get as many graves covered as possible. He fund-raises through various jeep groups, year round. He's an Army veteran, who served in the Gulf War and Maryland National Guard.
Accord says, "I consider myself a patriotic person. I support the military. I support first responders. I have pride in our country. And I feel like these days, there's not so much pride in America, because not so much displaying of it. And there's not so much support for veterans, especially the older veterans. It's it's going by the wayside, and something like this.. Wreaths across America could use the public's help. If everyone got involved, and it's just once a year, it wouldn't take much."
Acord started with Wreaths Across America as just a volunteer helping with the Arlington National Cemetery. Then, he decided to spearhead his own so he could focus on cemeteries in Maryland. He now works collecting donations for four of them in the state.
"When I got out of service, in 92, I moved up to the Baltimore-Catonsville area. I lived there there for nine years," said Acord. "So my first choice was Baltimore National, and I've picked up the Crownsville Cemetery, which is an an Anne Arundel County because that's where one of my jeep groups participates in each year, and Cheltenham Cemetery, which is towards the Southern Maryland region. This summer, my former First Sergeant from one of my units passed away. We buried him there. So it has meaning there and not far from my house is Garrison Forest, which is in Owings Mills."
Acord stressed, "I wanted to do something more for Maryland. I'm born and raised in Maryland, I have a lot of pride in Maryland. So I just want to give it back."
Right now, he's raised enough for just over a thousand wreaths split between four cemeteries. He's hoping to get some more donations so if you'd like to help he's accepting donations until November 29. Click here to sponsor a wreath and one of the four cemeteries he's working with.
Wreaths Across America works year round to educate the community about military opportunities, veteran struggles with mental health and they help veterans of families of the fallen.
Jennifer Kirk works with Wreaths Across America to recognize her uncle and dozens of others. Her uncle was on a classified mission and never made it to the destination in Saigon. This happened nearly 60 years ago and it's still unknown what happened. The military declared all 93 men on Tiger Flight 739 dead.
Wreaths Across America created a monument for this group outside their headquarters in Maine, but these names haven't been added to the Vietnam War Memorial in DC. That's something the family of those on the plane are fighting for.
"The ultimate goal for for all the families is to get them on that wall, with their brothers and sisters in arms," said Kirk. She added, "they were doing a job that the government asked them to do and they were on their way. It's not their fault that the plane disappeared.... They were doing a job, and they should be recognized as American heroes."
Kirk and others are fighting for the Tiger Flight 739 Act to pass. This bill is in the first stage of the legislative process, introduced to congress in July of this year.