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Wreaths: A Solemn Journey

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

Members of the convoy that met the bus in Portland secured their luggage tags from the Coordinator prior to embarking. If a tag was not present on the bag or suitcase, it did not go on the bus.

The single bus half-filled with American Patriots, departed Portland, Maine on a partially overcast day as the late Fall sun rose over Casco Bay at 7:50 am. Some had originated their journey in Downeast Maine two days before. Following a change in bus transportation in Portland, as the initial bus had lost hydraulic function upon arrival there, the veteran bus driver slipped into an assigned space in the convoy as the vehicular element began its journey southward.

The first stop was at the Fire Station in Elliot, Maine. Along the route to the venue on Route 1 were crowds who waved flags as the convoy passed. School children were especially enthusiastic to see the trucks, motorcycles and bus pass by them. Following a patriotic program put on by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the group of police officers accompanying the convoy for traffic control got together and had their photo taken. Police represented the Towns of Fairfield, Gorham, Scarborough, South Portland, Windham, Westbrook, Waldo County, Maine State Police, Maine Warden Service, Portland and other towns. These officers were chosen by their Headquarters to travel the distance to Alexandria as a measure of honor. It cannot be emphasized enough the professionalism all displayed in making the journey as safe as possible. They truly rose to the occasion day in and day out. Without their presence, there could not have been a convoy to Alexandria.

The first travel day for the Portland group ended with a stay in motels in Brattleboro, Vermont. The evening’s stop in Vermont dictated a specific placement of suitcases in the luggage compartment at the Portland start point. There were to be three hotel stops. The bus driver methodically put each rider’s bag in the appropriate section denoting a specific hotel. When we arrived at the first hotel, a Holiday Inn Express, a minimum of time was spent taking the luggage off and given to the individual owner. It was a lesson in organizational effectiveness.

THE MASCOT

A unique passenger on the bus was acknowledged early on in the journey. He had been plucked out of a box, given the name Dunkin and was dubbed Mascot for the trip to Arlington. The little stuffed animal (it was finally ascertained that it was a dog and not a bear) had been selected to ride ‘shotgun’ with his back to the road in the front center windshield so he could watch three nefarious characters in the back of the bus. These were Tim, Rich and Jim. The trio were considered suspect in that their jovial mood was only surpassed by their wit and unrelenting good will thrust upon the other passengers. And for that, one of the Musketeers was charged with the care-taking responsibility for Dunkin, the Mascot, and this was Tim.

Timothy was given the enviable positive action of taking Dunkin off of the bus when arriving at a venue and carrying him everywhere a special event was being held. He ate with Tim, sat with the latter and, when it was time to check in at a motel for the evening, Dunkin was ceremoniously transported to Tim’s room for safeguard. There, he was placed in the adjoining bed, tucked in and peacefully ‘snored’ the evening away. A special bond immediately surfaced between the two travelers.

In a special ceremony on Thursday of that week, Dunkin, who was to be given to a Trucker following the trip, was presented to Tim instead for his steadfast care and attention given to the Pup. Of course, everyone on the bus but Tim knew that this was going to happen two days before the announcement was made. It was a conspiracy of good will and appreciation given to a Septuagenarian who good naturedly had accepted the assignment early on in the journey.

OUR CARE TAKERS

The Bus was driven by a Veteran Bus Driver. Dennis had been on this trip several times before and we could tell it wasn’t his first rodeo. He was a remarkable driver of the Coach he commanded and did so with the expertise of a seamstress (he could thread the massive vehicle through the eye of a needle, if put to the task). Dennis was also everyone’s alarm clock as he dutifully told each bus rider the exact time he/she was to report to the bus with luggage in hand every morning. And, woe to thee if you were late, as evidenced by my tardy gaffe on the final Saturday morning. I did make the bus departure for it would have been extremely difficult in my physical condition to sprint after the massive vehicle.

Dennis was a real ‘softie’ in reality. Although, in reality, I would never tell him so to his face. He was very detailed in his instruction and reminded me of my Drill Sergeant in that regard. We were very fortunate to have Dennis as the Captain of our ‘ship’.

Then, there were Jeanette and Ally, Mother and Daughter. I met Ally for the first time as she was trying to herd the passengers to the bus with their luggage outside the Hampton Inn in Portland. There were to be three stops the first evening out of Portland into Brattleboro, Vermont. Dennis instructed Ally where the various luggage would go depending upon what hotel each passenger was to stay at for the evening. Ally was Dennis’ back-up memory device as the latter kept forgetting the order of hotels the luggage had to be placed under the bus. She kept everyone straight as bags lined up beside the bus prior to departure.

Jeanette was the invincible rock of an Administrator during the entire trip to Alexandria. She kept everyone knowledgeable about daily agenda and dutifully announced a head count by the numbers every morning, and, whenever it was necessary to heard the cats again before leaving a venue. Jeanette was a charismatic Leader who required everyone’s attention above all else. She was Dunkin’s initial Care Taker before handing off the fiesty Mascot over to the Author early on in the journey. Jeanette was an excellent Coordinator and was extremely knowledgeable about protocol relating to what to expect at the various stops. She kept the bus stores fully packed so that no one would go without a soft drink or frito. There was one critical moment, however, when we were told that we were on our own for lunch and dinner late in the trip. I had ascertained that Marty, a Member who rode in the back of the bus, stated that she had a granola bar. I asked her to hold off on eating it and raced to the front of the bus to tell all that no one would starve that day: we had one granola bar in the back of the bus!

There was a special bonding of all on the way to Arlington. Each individual helped the other out when it was necessary. No one was left with an unanswered question.

Of course, one didn’t have to ride the bus the entire trip as options were made to different individuals. If one were so inclined, one had the opportunity to ride on the back of a motorcycle with Mark, for example, or in a SUV with one of the volunteer drivers. For me, riding with J.D. Walker in his huge tractor trailer was the hi-light of my trip. During the leg segment, I had the opportunity to get to know him a little, something that I cherished, one of the many experiences during the week.

VENUE CEREMONIES

It cannot be stressed enough how meaningful each Wreaths Across America presentation was exhibited by those who welcomed the travelers to their Town locations. It was heart-warming.

The genuine patriotism displayed honoring the Fallen and Veterans was everywhere. The meticulous planning in demonstrating a national pride was evident as shown by the lines of school children lined along Town streets as the convoy slowly passed. It was also seen in the preparation of venue presentations that ranged from a Marching Band to a display of wonderful dancing by a terrific group of students at one of the stops. Nothing was too small in recognizing Veterans as students prepared drwwings denoting sincere appreciation for all who had served.

FINAL SPECIAL DAYS

Friday evening before traveling to Arlington Cemetery on Saturday, a dinner was held to capture the week’s efforts in recognizing and honoring all Veterans. The hi-lite of this dinner was the attendance of the Worcester Family present for this 30th session of the Laying of the Wreaths celebration. Their commitment toward recognizing all Veterans was celebrated as the key moment of the nightly affair.

Saturday morning, the convoy arrived at Arlington National Cemetery. Trucks filled with wreaths were positioned throughout the area. Individuals poured onto the sacred grounds and took wreaths to individual grave sites where they were laid against tombstones in a ceremonial fashion. Specific events were help at JFK’s Tomb and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Needless to say, these occasions were witnessed in a most solemn fashion.

Patriotism was not dead for to witness such events definitely uplifted one’s feelings and pride for this great Nation of ours through the dedication and generosity of the American spirit. I for one cherished each meeting with local authorities and the way they demonstrated their patriotism and dedication toward those who served, especially those who had fallen in service to their Country. 

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