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Around The Fleet

Tribute to the Fallen: Wreaths Across America

Remembering sacrifices this holiday season

A brisk wind rustles up fallen leaves and sweeps past the marble headstones of Arlington National Cemetery.

Sunrise over Arlington National Cemetery.

Sunrise over Arlington National Cemetery.

It's an early December morning when trucks carrying more than 240,000 wreaths, enough to cover every headstone, pull through the ornate wrought iron gates of Arlington.

Some people have been waiting since before sunrise for the Wreaths Across America (WAA) trucks to arrive so they can pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Two photo spread showing people waiting for wreaths to arrive and trucks arriving with wreaths.

Arlington wreaths

One group stands out from the others as the crowds move through the cemetery. A group of women, all dressed in white, who know loss all too well. They are Gold Star mothers, mothers whose son or daughters final resting place is Arlington.

One such mother is Mona Gunn whose son, Cherone Gunn, is buried in section 60 of Arlington. Gunn was one of 17 Sailors killed aboard USS Cole on October 12, 2000 when suicide bombers detonated an explosive-laden boat directly against the port side of the ship while refueling in Aden, Yemen.

"Cherone was my middle son and followed his father's footsteps and joined the Navy," reflected Gunn.

Cherone had been in the Navy less than a year before he was killed.

"No question that this [Arlington] would be the place for him; this is a place for heroes,"
- Mona Gunn

Three photo spread showing wreaths being handing out, wreaths on graves and box of wreaths.

Left: Volunteer handing out wreaths at Arlington. Center: Wreaths decorating headstones at Arlington. Right: Box of wreaths waiting to be handed out at Arlington.

Gold Star mothers have been making the pilgrimage with WAA to Arlington since 2007. For these mothers and their families it is a solemn moment to reflect on the sacrifice their loved one gave in defense of this country.

More than 70,000 volunteers placed wreaths over every section of the cemetery. Each vibrant green balsam fir wreath with a bright red bow was carefully placed at the bottom of each headstone.

For one volunteer, it was his first time participating in Wreaths Across America Day, but not his first time visiting Arlington, a place where three service members he served with in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.

Construction Electrician 1st Class Neal Alan Walker took the opportunity to visit his friends' graves, honor them and teach his family, especially his son and daughter, about the sacrifices of those who have served this country.

"It was extremely important for me to come out here today, not only to see my friends, but also see every single person out here that have gone before us,"
- CE1 Neal Alan Walker

Two photo spread of Washington Monument and Eternal Flame at JFK's grave.

Left: Washington Monument in background of Arlington National Cemetery during Wreaths Across America Day. Right: Wreath at John F. Kennedy's grave with Eternal Flame.

"I want to make sure their memory goes on and make sure I share their story to my children so they understand not only how important it was for those that gave them their freedoms, but that it was also people that their dad served with."

Some volunteers can be heard saying the name of the fallen out loud, something that the Worcester family has encouraged since the beginning in 1992 when they first started bringing wreaths to Arlington.

Service members from all branches joined the crowd to help honor their fellow Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Coastguardsmen this day.

If you did not have the opportunity to lay a wreath at Arlington, there is still a chance to help out. The wreaths will be picked up from Arlington Saturday January 23. Visit the Arlington National Cemetery website for more information

Navy Photo