By Amanda Huffman
Remember… Honor… Teach. These are the principles that Wreaths Across America stands for. Every year, across the United States, volunteers gather at cemeteries to lay wreaths on the graves of Veterans. While the most well-known of these events is held at Arlington National Cemetery, you and your family can participate wherever you are in the country.
My family has participated in Wreaths Across America and learned how valuable an experience it is, so I’d like to share it with you in hopes that you will consider participating in it yourself — and that it is as meaningful to your family as it continues to be to mine.
Our participation started in late 2017 when my husband told me about an event he wanted us to attend where we would lay wreaths on the graves of Veterans. To be honest, I was unsure how family-friendly or significant this event would be. As a mom of an almost two-year-old and a four-year-old, I had my doubts about how meaningful the whole experience would be to them. But we were free that day and we decided to attend.
Dealing with My Identity
I am both a Veteran and a military spouse, a dual identity I had struggled with for years after leaving the military. But this ceremony started to help me discover how to meld the two into one. Both parts of me felt the tremendous power of stopping to recognize the service of our Veterans and those still serving on Active Duty. At the time, I had been keeping my distance from the Veteran community and, instead, dove into who I was as a military spouse. But the ceremony and wreath-laying helped clarify my identity not only as a military spouse, but also as a Veteran.
Some of the participating members who represented their military branches were women. I finally felt seen as a female Veteran. And I didn’t know how much I needed that validation. Also, my kids got to learn what it means to be in the military, an experience we had only vaguely discussed in the past. The ceremony opened the door for a conversation with my then four-year-old.
Laying Wreaths as a Family
At the conclusion of the ceremony, my family walked together to select wreaths to lay on the graves. My four-year-old had a litany of questions: Why did you serve? What was it like to be in the military? Why are we laying wreaths on graves? Attending Wreaths Across America was an open door to a conversation, providing an effortless way to teach the next generation about military service.
We somberly walked to the graves with the wreaths encircled around our arms. My husband and I watched both of our boys proudly place the wreaths on the graves, stopping to read out their names.
Since we attended that first ceremony in 2017, we have made space on our calendar to attend every year. We’ve gone to different locations with each move and have experienced the event not only with my family, but with grandparents and friends as well. By doing this, we are spreading the message of remembering those who have served, honoring their service, teaching not only the next generation but also others about sacrifice and love of country. We are also sharing a piece of our own story as a military family.
Make Wreaths Across America a Family Tradition This Year
This year, Wreaths Across America will be held on December 16, 2023. Each cemetery that participates sets the time and collects donations for wreaths. Donations of wreaths will be collected until November 28. Your family can participate by either donating a wreath or multiple wreaths to a cemetery, volunteering to lay wreaths, or both. For information about where and when events are happening, and to donate wreaths, visit the Wreaths Across America website.
Ever since my family added this tradition to our holiday season in 2017, it has become an event that we look forward to each year as we are able to give back while remembering, honoring, and teaching.
Amanda is a military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Service, is the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War Horse, Military.com, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more.