Veterans' Wreaths Connect Citizens Through Expressions of Respect and Gratitude
It sounds like the opening of a lame joke; “So, what do a retired lady pharmacist and a motorcycle-riding U.S. Army veteran have in common?” In this case, it’s no joke, and the answer is Wreaths Across America.
Ann and Tom have never met, yet they’re “kindred spirits” sharing expressions of respect and gratitude. Ann Hamlin, a retired Pharmacist, and Tom Epperly, a retired U.S. Army counterintelligence special agent are working together on shared missions for their respective organizations. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), of which Ann is a member and the Patriot Guard Riders to which Tom belongs, are both working on membership retainment and recruitment. They also support Wreaths Across America, and it’s the mission to remember, honor, and teach that brings them together in the state of Kentucky. “My why?” Ann shares, “is my husband, who is a veteran of the U.S. Army having served in Vietnam from 1968-1969.”
Ann got involved with Wreaths Across America in October of 2017 and became Location Coordinator at Camp Nelson National Cemetery. Camp Nelson is a Wreaths Across America location participating the last 12 years. Ann cannot say enough about the help and support she receives from the Patriot Guard Riders leading up to National Wreaths Across America Day. “Last year was the first year we had our own convoy with the wreaths from the Interstate into the cemetery, which was very special. It flowed like clockwork, and we got the truck into the cemetery in the short window of time we had to pre-stage. These men and women hopped off their motorcycles and unloaded 550 boxes of wreaths within an hour. On Wreath Day, they showed up at 6 AM to move those boxes to the 26 areas of the cemetery we put out wreaths. Then they stayed afterward and helped direct traffic and parking. They spent more time on the ground than I did. It’s in their hearts to serve and do anything they can do to serve our veterans.”
Ann follows the Kentucky Patriot Guard Riders on Facebook seeing one of their posts about recruitment struggles. It resonated with her, and she wanted to “pay” the group back for all of their support at Camp Nelson. She posted their beautiful video on her Wreaths Across America page and started to received interest in the Patriot Guard Riders. Ann forwarded those messages to Tom Epperly and Tom Folsom at Patriot Guard Riders of Kentucky. “Then I reached out to Wreaths Across America to see if there was a way to help spread their mission message,” Ann explained.
It's our honor to do so, Ann! The Patriot Guard Riders were formed to shield military families from those who would attempt to disrupt the burial or memorial services of a loved one. Patriot Guard Riders must be asked by a direct family member, often through the funeral home, to participate as guardians. Additionally, they provide escorts for the fallen and have had a long-standing involvement volunteering with Wreaths Across America escorts, and special events throughout the country. You don’t have to be a motorcyclist to become a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, but Tom Epperly is, and he joined in 2005. “I grew up in Nebraska, but the Army took me all over the world, and I wound up in eastern Kentucky. When I first heard of Patriot Guard Riders, it was an automatic thing for me. I knew this would be the way I’d continue to serve.” Tom has worked his way up through the organization to serve currently as the Assistant State Captain for Kentucky. “It never gets old, and it’s such an honor,” Tom shares of his involvement with the organization. “It’s ingrained in us to do what we do so friends and family of those who have served the United States can bury their loved ones in a peaceful and dignified manner. To take a stand for those who have served is the least we can do, especially for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.” Patriot Guard Riders also step into action when they learn of a veteran scheduled for burial with no attending family. That funeral will become a Patriot Guard mission, and they will become that veteran’s family for the service. It’s a remarkable veterans service organization.
Continuing with their online correspondence, Tom expressed interest to Ann in getting the cemetery in his part of the state involved, not realizing he could play a part in making that happen. Ann started to research Kentucky Veteran’s Cemetery Northeast to discover through photos they were “emulating” Wreaths Across America but not participating as an official location. Both of them are reaching out now to encourage their participation in 2019! “I think Wreaths Across America is a fabulous idea,” Tom shares. “It’s a wonderful way during the holidays to stop and say hey, your service and sacrifice are not forgotten, and we appreciate you.”
Wreaths Across America appreciates the volunteer efforts of Ann and Tom and the support we receive from all those associated with the DAR and Patriot Guard Riders!
You can hear more from Ann and Tom in our “What’s Your Why?” features airing on Wreaths Across America Radio.