What About The Unknowns?
When placing veterans’ wreaths at the headstones of the fallen in December, Wreaths Across America encourages volunteers to ‘say their names’ believing a person dies twice. The first time when their heart stops, and the second when their name is said out loud for the last time. One 10-year-old volunteer, Michael McGill, recognized a unique dilemma last year while placing wreaths at the Post Cemetery at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Last year there were not enough sponsored wreaths for the cemetery, so not every headstone would be covered. “My son noticed people were placing wreaths on headstones with names, but very few if any were placed on the stones marked “Unknown” and he asked me where he should place his wreath,” explains his dad. “I told him that was a decision he would need to make for himself, and he chose the unknown’s marker. Then he asked me if we could focus on just the unknowns next year.”
Michael McGill is active duty Army and has served for 17 years. He’s had multiple deployments, most recently returning from South Korea. He’s also the President of a small 501c 3 charity called the School of Athens. Most of the board members of the organization are military, so in addition to supporting underprivileged children as part of their mission, the School of Athens also embraces the needs of veterans. “For the most part, we’ve seen a lot of veterans who want to give back to their communities but just aren’t sure how to go about doing that,” Michael shares. “We’ve also teamed up with the Silent War Foundation, and together we find ways to use veterans to help other veterans, and we make sure we connect them with essential services and resources.”
Michael’s sons are invested in the volunteer work they do with Wreaths Across America and they’re busy raising wreath sponsorships to be able to cover all of the headstones of the unknowns at the Post Cemetery as well as the other heroes laid to rest there. “We have a motto of responsibility,” Michael shares. “If we have the ability to respond, then we have the responsibility to do so, and we do. We realized we could make a difference in the lives of these families through Wreaths Across America. We knew we could have a positive impact, and it’s a perfect way to show the kids respect for our history.”
Michael says there are over 4,000 graves on Ft Sill, many of them unknowns, and so far only about a half of those graves will receive a veteran’s wreath for the headstone. The children of the U.S. Army families that make up the School of Athens are working hard to one day be able to honor them all.
You can hear more from Michael in our What’s Your Why? special features on Wreaths Radio.