Lord of the Wreaths
By Mr. Timothy D. Sandland, 102nd Intelligence Wing
/ Published December 17, 2014
12/17/2014 -- Master Sgt. Dennis Mills is a man on a mission.
As the Cape Cod Location Leader for Wreaths Across America (WAA), Sgt. Mills organizes, plans, and implements the annual placing of wreaths on veteran's graves at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne each year. This year's event took place on Saturday, December 13th.
According to their website, Wreaths Across America began in 1992 by Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine. When he encountered a surplus of wreaths near the end of the holiday season, he decided to donate the excess wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. Since then, the program has grown and has established a longstanding tradition of ensuring the graves of the country's veterans are honored annually. Today, ceremonies are held at over 150 locations nation-wide.
Sgt. Mills, who is also a volunteer with the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) squadron, initially got involved in the WAA program back in 2007, when the Worcester Wreath Company started approaching CAP units for help distributing the wreaths. During that first year approximately 300 wreaths were placed on veterans graves.
In 2010, Sgt. Mills leaned even further forward and became the Location Leader for Cape Cod. Since then the number of volunteers, sponsors, and most notably wreaths has continued to rise each year. In that short amount of time the number of wreaths placed in Bourne has grown from the original 300 to the nearly 5,000 that were placed on Saturday.
That growth is no surprise. It stems from the generous donations of citizens in the local community and the commitment of volunteers who show up every year, helping unload, prepare, and place the large number of wreaths during the ceremony.
Realistically, it is a significant undertaking - from the delivery, storage, and distribution of thousands of wreaths, to the coordination and marketing of the event. The logistics of managing all this, along with the hundreds of volunteers who typically show up to help requires a solid maestro to orchestrate. Year after year, Sgt. Mills steps up and makes it happen.
The wreath laying ceremony itself is a very special event. It draws hundreds of local residents, family members, civil leaders, government officials, and military personnel. Most years there are one or more Gold Star family members who, if they choose to, address the gathering and share stories of their fallen loved ones. It is a solemn, yet celebratory remembrance of those who have lost their lives in defense of the country.
Sgt. Mills' passion for the Wreaths Across America program is clearly evident. He works hard to ensure this patriotic program is administered effectively and veterans are honored appropriately. All of that hard work comes to fruition on the day of the ceremony, but the work doesn't end there. Although the wreaths are in place throughout the holiday season, they do need to be collected from the graves eventually.
On the second Saturday of every January, a group of volunteers assembles to collect the wreaths. Although there is less "pomp and circumstance" surrounding the collection event, it is no less important. Picking up the wreaths ensures that the cemetery remains free of debris and the graves are maintained properly. The collected wreaths are deposited in piles in each section of the cemetery where grounds people from the Department of Veterans Affairs pick them up and use them as mulch to further beautify the grounds.
Sgt. Mills is still looking for willing individuals to assist with wreath collection on Saturday morning on the 17th of January. If you would like to volunteer, please contact him at 508-968-4389.