MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – You don’t have to tell Lt. Col. Wayne Merritt what a big deal it is to place remembrance wreaths on the white marble gravestones of U.S. military veterans buried at Arlington National Cemetery. As one of the two members from Maine who first involved Civil Air Patrol in Wreaths Across America, Merritt knows all about it, having experienced it firsthand for the past 10 years.
Merritt’s upcoming 700-mile trek to Arlington will be his 11th, and one he looks forward to each December as part of Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization founded by the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, Maine, that recognizes the courage and sacrifices of U.S. veterans by placing wreaths on the graves of the fallen during the holiday season.
“We are able to live as we do because of the sacrifice of these men and women,” said Merritt. “We are able to speak freely and go as we please. We must never stop thanking our veterans. They must never be forgotten.”
Merritt and other CAP officers and cadets will join an estimated 10,000 volunteers at Arlington on Dec. 14 for National Wreaths Across America Day. At Arlington and at 825 U.S. cemeteries and memorial sites around the world, other volunteers – many of them CAP members – will also participate in the venture, placing more than 425,000 fresh Maine balsam wreaths on the graves of military veterans as a tribute to their service and sacrifice.
CAP has been a proud partner in Wreaths Across America since 2006, when the nonprofit organization was formed. It was Merritt and another CAP lieutenant colonel, the late Dennis Murray, who saw the potential to expand what was then a fledgling program begun by the Worcester Wreath Co. by tapping into the thousands of service-minded CAP members across America. More and more participate every year — selling wreath sponsorships to the public, laying wreaths and conducting ceremonies to mark the day with pomp, circumstance and patriotism.
“I became involved in Wreaths Across America through Worcester Wreath Co.’s Arlington Project in 2003,” said Merritt. “That year, I took three cadets along on the trip to Arlington. They were so impressed that I came back and called Dennis Murray and asked him if he would like to go on the trip the following year. We took one van and 10 cadets that year. In 2005, when WAA was formed, we decided it would be a great community service activity for CAP. We contacted National Headquarters and the rest is history.”
Today CAP is the largest group fundraising for Wreaths Across America, and the project is now a full-time venture for Merritt, who serves on the nonprofit organization’s executive board as national director. “CAP members help lead the way by selling wreath sponsorships and coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at locations throughout the United States and across the world,” said Lt. Col. J.D. Ellis, CAP’s 2013 national Wreath Across America coordinator. “We provide honor and color guards for the ceremonies as well as thousands of volunteers to help lay wreaths.”
Besides CAP, numerous other civic and charitable organizations, as well as corporate donors, are also involved in the effort, which receives notable support from Gold Star Mothers in the U.S., the Silver Star Mothers in Canada and the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle club.
Members of Civil Air Patrol are proud to partner once more with Wreaths Across America to recognize U.S. veterans by placing wreaths on the graves of the fallen during the holiday season.
At COS, the cadets have a unique opportunity to learn about the Air Force, airpower history, leadership, teamwork, communication skills and problem solving.
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. – Civil Air Patrol’s Cadet Officer School, one of the top professional development opportunities available to America’s youth, will be in session here next week...