My father, Col. Ercie J. Leach, was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in July, with full military honors. In December, my husband and I had the opportunity to join Wreaths Across America and more than 5,000 volunteers in laying wreaths on the graves of those who have selflessly served our nation.
Wreaths of evergreen signify strength, since evergreen can survive the harshest winter, and it seems fitting to honor those who have given so much for our country in this way.
I first heard about this volunteer opportunity from my friend and Coworker, Charlotte Whipple, and I couldn’t wait to be part of the event. My husband and I made plans to travel to Virginia and join Charlotte and other DCA Employees in laying wreaths.
The forecast for the morning of the event called for sleet and snow! My husband and I came prepared with plenty of layers of clothing. We joined the thousands of other volunteers who braved the weather to honor the servicemen and women laid to rest alongside my father.
As soon as we arrived, I noticed the atmosphere at the event was similar to a Southwest volunteer project. Everyone was excited to be there, and they all seemed to know each other. I felt privileged to be part of an event that meant so much to so many of us.
Knowing it would have greater meaning for me to actually lay a wreath on my father’s gravesite, Charlotte approached a volunteer coordinator in the section to inquire. They were more than happy to accommodate us and allowed us to line up with others who had made the same request, to lay a loved one’s wreath.
With thousands of graves needing wreaths, we assumed we’d spend the day at the cemetery. Before we laid the wreaths, we were encouraged to reflect upon the veteran’s branch and service to his/her country. Surprisingly, because there were so many volunteers, it did not take long for more than 143,000 wreaths to be placed. We believe we each laid about 12 wreaths. It was a beautiful sight to see the greenery, signifying what these veterans sacrificed for our freedoms.
I am thankful to work at Southwest Airlines, where patriotism runs deep. Every November is dedicated as Military Heroes Month. Our four main themes during this time are Service, Honor, Sacrifice, and Celebrate. Since 2008, on Veterans Day, we provide cards to Customers and Employees to share their messages of appreciation to deployed troops, with the help of the A Million Thanks organization. We are proud of all those who serve or have served, including our more than 6,000 Employees who are veterans.
The day we laid the wreaths held a great deal of meaning and importance for me. Not only could I honor my father, but I also was able to honor the men and women who served with him. I know my father would be deeply touched by the work Wreaths Across America does for veterans every day. It is a special project that I am proud to support. I plan on going back every year to help with this distinctive project.