Where will you be at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12? If at all possible, Branford military veterans Dottie Packer and Pamela Bold hope to see you among a surge of supporters lining Route 1 at Exit 55, to welcome the powerfully moving sight of the Wreaths Across America (WAA) convoy as it rolls into town.
The honor convoy travels from Maine to Virginia annually and has become known as "America's largest Veterans Day parade," according to WAA organizers. This year, Packer and Bold will be among 200 volunteers, some traveling in 12 specially-wrapped WAA vehicles, others in buses and SUVs; together with a platoon of state police and Patriot Guard motorcycles escorting a convoy of one dozen 18-wheelers carrying 400,000 evergreen wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery.
"To see it in its entirety is an impressive thing. It leaves a profound impact," said Packer. "What we want to do is have people come out, wave a flag, make a banner, or show their patriotism any way they can."
Now in its 26th year, WWA uses the power of its convoy to help citizens remember America's fallen heroes, honor those who serve, and teach youth about the sacrifices of veterans and their families to preserve freedom. In return, those lining the streets for views such as the one in store for Branford will help put the town's support on display for members of the military and the Gold Star and Blue Star families traveling with the convoy.
While WAA has made Connecticut stops before, it's coming into Branford for the first time in its history. A section of the convoy will peel off to arrive at Branford High School (BHS) for a student assembly (closed to the public) on Dec. 12. Packer and Bold will join Grand Marshal and Medal of Honor Recipient Col. Roger Donlon (U.S. Army Special Forces, retired) and his wife and co-Grand Marshal, Norma Donlon at the assembly. Meanwhile, the rest of the convoy will pull in at Branford Fire Headquarters, 45 North Main St. (approximately 1:45 p.m.) where the public is also encouraged to be on-hand to greet them.
Packer is a retired Lt. Commander, Nurse Corps U.S. Navy and Bold is a retired Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Coast Guard. In addition to serving 10 years with the U.S. Coast Guard, Bold also served in the U.S. Airforce (four years) and in the U.S. Navy (eight years) for a total of 22 years of military service. Packer served with the Navy for 26 years, with 15 years as a nurse and 11 years as a Corpsman.
Both Packer and Bold have participated in past WAA convoys. Beginning early this year, the two worked to successfully petition WAA to add Branford as a community stop.
"Last year it, came through West Haven and stopped at an elementary school," said Packer. "We decided if they can do that, they can come to Branford. Pam called in January and talked to the coordinator; and in June we had a site visit and got the green light."
The veterans thank First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, Branford Police Chief Kevin Halloran and Branford Fire Chief Tom Mahoney and their departments, Branford's veteran organizations, Veterans Parade chairman Bill O'Brien, the Town of Branford, Superintendent of Schools Hamlet Hernandez and BHS principal Lee Panagoulias for assisting with the visit.
The concept for WAA was founded by Merrill Worcester of Worcester Wreath Co. (Harrington, ME), who delivered 5,000 wreaths to Arlington in 1992. In 2007, the Worcester family and other dedicated volunteers formally formed WAA as a non-profit. Each year, the WAA convoy departs with a huge sendoff from Harrington on its way to Arlington. This year's convoy will reach Arlington to lay wreaths on Dec. 16.
To learn more about WAA or make a donation, visit the WAA website here Donations may also be sent to: WAA, P.O. Box 249 Columbia Falls, ME 04623.