When Pete Headley joined the local chapter of Rolling Thunder (RTTN#4) more than nine years ago, he quickly became involved in the organization’s mission – to educate the public about American prisoner-of-war (POW) and missing-in-action (MIA) military personnel and to help American veterans from all wars.
Headley’s desire to honor all the veterans led him to one of the chapter’s key activities – “Wreaths Across America,” a national project started in Maine where wreaths are created with live balsam evergreen boughs, decorated with a red ribbon, and placed on the graves of deceased veterans to show respect and appreciation during the December holidays.
“Kids today don’t know a lot about our military history,” Headley said. “We need to show the next generation how the U.S. military personnel of all five branches preserved our freedom by putting their lives on the line, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, dying in battle…we need to honor all those men and women in our country who served.”
There are more than 17,000 graves at the Veterans Administration Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City. RTTN#4’s ultimate goal is to place a wreath at every headstone. The group joined forces several years ago with other veteran-oriented organizations to support this project when the cemetery received 400 wreaths from Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., extra wreaths that were not needed there.
“That’s when Bob Rambo, former chairman of the board and current president of RTTN#4, contacted Wreaths Across America to get our chapter more involved,” Headley said. “Last year was our best year. The veteran-oriented organizations in the Tri-Cities raised funds for more than 7,300 wreaths, but we’re still missing out on honoring 10,000 other veterans and spouses buried at Mountain Home.”
Wreaths will be placed at the donors’ designated gravestones on Friday, Dec. 13. On Saturday, Dec. 14, the public is encouraged to help put the remaining wreaths on graves as directed by the Mountain Home National Cemetery staff. The wreaths will remain until early January.
During the ceremony on Dec. 14, the public will be able to remember and honor our veterans through the laying of remembrance wreaths on the graves of our country’s fallen heroes and speak their names aloud. There will also be a wreath presented for each branch of the armed forces in a ceremony prior to the wreath laying.