12:17 PM

CAP Members Take on Communications Role for Arlington Wreaths Across America Observance

Sheila Pursglove
Contributing Writer

While thousands of Civil Air Patrol members in all 52 wings and abroad participated Saturday in 2017 Wreaths Across America obeservances — placing remembrance wreaths on graves, hosting ceremonies and providing speakers and honor guards at cemeteries, monument and other sites — many took on a new role at Arlington National Cemetery.

In previous years, CAP members helped lay wreaths on graves at Arlington and took part in wreath-laying

ceremonies at the CAP Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, while also providing the color guard for opening events at the Women in Military Service Memorial. This year, though, the National Capital Wing, along with members from the Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Tennessee wings, filled an operational role by providing total communications support using their operational missions experience.

“This year’s support changed significantly — it was more behind-the-scenes, and totally unique compared to what has been done in previous years,” said Col. Jane Davies, a former National Capital Wing commander, who coordinated the operation.

“Over the years, the project has really expanded. It’s more of a full-blown mission support now, and came about because of CAP members’ knowledge of incident command post techniques,” Davies said.

CAP began providing communications support to Wreaths Across America in 2012. That’s now members’ primary mission for the observance at Arlington.

All told, this year the campaign resulted in 1.57 million wreaths placed at 1,422 participating locations nationwide.

After a send-off ceremony in Harrington, Maine — home of the Worcester Wreath Co., which launched the Arlington annual wreath project in 1992 — 10 escort trucks carried fresh balsam evergreen wreaths along a 750-mile route. Along the way, the convoy prompted parades and ceremonies at schools, memorials and other locations in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., to spread the Wreaths Across America mission: Remember, Honor and Teach.

Grand marshals for the procession were retired U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Roger Donlon, who received the first Medal of Honor for action in the Vietnam War, and his wife, Norma, a Vietnam-era Gold Star wife. Chevrolet provided 12 wrapped vehicles to transport Gold Star families and veterans.

Escort participants included American Gold Star Mothers, Blue Star Families, Gold Star Wives of America, veterans and the Wreaths Across America extended family. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Patriot Riders of America and Rolling Thunder flanked the escort along with law enforcement from Maine.

Fifty-five trucks, each carrying almost 4,000 wreaths, were prepositioned at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday.

When the 65-truck convoy arrived in Arlington shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday, up to 220 CAP members were on hand in the chilly weather to help distribute wreaths to thousands of public volunteers, who then laid them at more than 245,000 gravesites to honor the service and sacrifice of military veterans and fallen service members.

CAP members provided radio relays to the incident command post about the status of supplies in each truck, coordinating with Arlington National Cemetery operations.

The CAP efforts continued a legacy begun 17 years ago, when the Maine Wing’s Machais Valley Composite Squadron, led by its commander, Lt. Col. Wayne Merritt, laid wreaths at Arlington.

This year’s observances began with an 8:15 a.m. ceremony at the Women In Military Service for America Memorial. Special wreath-laying events followed at the Columbarium, the President William F. Taft Monument, the President John F. Kennedy Memorial, the USS Battleship Maine Monument and the Tomb of the Unknowns.