In December 2011 I did something I do not think I will ever forget. I joined five friends of mine on an escort ride for Wreaths Across America. My friends did this the prior year but I could not participate since I did not have enough vacation tine. In 2011 I found I had an extra day, so I took Friday off and joined them. All I can say is WOW! I have done this each year since then.
If you are not familiar with this event, on the second Saturday of each year wreaths get laid on graves in Arlington National Cemetery as well as many other National Cemeteries in the US and outside the US. A group leaves Maine the week prior and drives down to Arlington. Included in this group in no particular order are the Civil Air Patrol, Young Marines, Blue and Gold Star Mothers, the Governor of Maine’s wife, several trucks full of wreaths, and several Maine state troopers. I am sure I forgot some and if anyone is aware of a group please let me know and I will update this. They are escorted by riders like us and the Patriot Guard. The six of us joined up in Middletown DE Friday morning and this is what I saw.
We stopped at the Middletown High school and honored Anthony Roberts, one of their graduates from 2003, who gave his life for us in 2004. His mother was present and she laid a wreath at a Cherry Tree planted at the school in his honor. We heard quite a few speakers talk about the occasion and what it meant to everyone including some of the Gold Star Mothers, a WWII Vet who was in the Battle of the Bulge, the Delaware Lt Governor, and the Delaware Attorney General who is the son of VP Biden. It was a very moving experience and gave us a new meaning for our participation in this great cause. When that was over we mounted up and moved on. The entire ride was escorted by State Police Motor Patrol in DE and MD and we never stopped en-route. Along the way we passed a few fire houses which had their ladder trucks out with huge flags on them. We stopped for lunch at an American Legion post on Kent Island in MD, and then split into two groups. The trucks and VIPs headed to the Naval Academy, the motorcycle escort and a few other groups went to the WWII Memorial for a ceremony there. Again, the wreath laying was a moving experience. We stopped for the night in College Park MD.
Saturday, we left our hotel at 5 am and headed over to a firehouse for breakfast. From there we left at 6:30 am in an escorted ride into Washington DC. The DC motor patrol did another fantastic job escorting us and we only stopped twice. What a great way to ride through DC. We crossed the river and went into Arlington National Cemetery. A friend of mine put it best: They cheered us like we were rock stars. There were maybe 15 bikes in total and we could not believe the reception we got.
But there it all changed. We made a left turn and went into the cemetery. Words cannot describe the feelings and emotions going through me. Here I was, with a group of close friends, riding my bike into some of the most hallowed ground in the nation. Pride, respect, sadness, honor, reverence, all at once, then in succession, then … I don’t know how to describe it any further. I am glad I did not have to speak to anyone at that point. We parked out bikes and headed over to the amphitheater for a few speeches from some of the Cemetery representatives as well as those who started this effort 20 years ago. I am not one for speeches, however this was different. After we were done we moved off and they had trucks placed in sections of the cemetery and thousands of volunteers were placing wreaths on gravesites of people they had never met. We stopped and honored someone who was attended to by one of our friends who is a medic on the National Guard who could not be with us this year. We then stopped and placed wreaths on grave sites. I placed mine on LTC Joseph Scales, born May 17, 1917 and died February 28, 1975 for no reason other than he did not have a wreath.
On our way out, we paused at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers where they had a wreath laying ceremony, and then headed to our bikes. Along the way, we saw the grave sites of heroes such as Audie Murphy and Claire Chennault.
At the end of the day, we had a 150+ mile ride home. We stopped at Dick’s Last Resort in Baltimore. What a great place. They basically act like they could care less, insult you, make you wear funny hats, throw piles of napkins at you, etc. It is all in jest, and was a lot of fun. It turned out to be a perfect way to lift our spirits after such an emotional day. I strongly suggest this place, but be ready to be insulted!
Wreath ceremony at Middletown DE high school
Bikes lined up and ready to leave from the Middletown DE high school
Our escort getting ready to leave when we sere stopped at the American Legion Post in Stevensville MD on Kent Island
Ladder truck with flag as we rode past
Ceremony at the WWII memorial
Passing our escort on US 50. How many times does one get to pass the State Police Motor Patrol at 75mph! I can only think what the cage drivers were thinking!
The entire group eating breakfast on Saturday morning at the Branchville Fire Station
Lined up and ready to go at 6:30 am Saturday morning
Making the turn into the cemetery. You can see our welcome straight ahead. To think our military was saluting US!
Some sections of the cemetery with wreaths
Inside the amphitheater
Grave I had the honor of laying a wreath on.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We are on the back side watching the wreath laying ceremony.
Audie Murphy, most decorated US soldier in WWII. The movie “To Hell and Back” is his story
John Rodgers, the second pilot in the US Navy
Michael Smith, pilot of the Challenger when it exploded
And to lighten the spirits, here is what Dick’s Last Resort looked like: