Wreath hanging at Pentagon a step forward for grieving family members
By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 16, 2016
WASHINGTON – Workers and visitors at the Pentagon this weekend will see 184 wreaths, each bound with bright red ribbon, tied to the black iron fence that surrounds the nation’s defensive hub.
They were tied to the gate by the hundreds of men, women and children who attended a memorial service held by Wreaths Across America, a charity that for the past 25 years has helped place wreaths on the gravesites of fallen servicemembers across the country.
On Friday, the wreaths were hung to represent each of the 184 people killed when American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the western wall of the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Of those killed, 55 were servicemembers.
“They’re casualties of war,” said Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America and wife of its founder, Morrill. “I don’t think we could possibly teach our children without including the lessons that happened here on 9/11.”
The wreaths represented something more for the attendees, many of whom traveled to the nation’s capital from the event’s starting point more than 700 miles away in Harrington, Maine.
They are a diverse bunch — a loose collection of civilians, veterans, Gold Star family members and young adults looking to understand an atrocity that happened when they were children. Many have found a path to healing through the charity.
“It’s been a rewarding experience to join with an organization that makes sure the nation doesn’t forget,” said Janice Chance, mother of Marine Capt. Jesse Melton III, 29, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008. “It’s like family. We’re carrying the legacy of our children, even though our hearts hurt, we’re able to move forward with that pain.”
Chance was not the only grieving family member at Friday’s ceremony. Michelle Murphy, mother of Army Sgt. Kendell Frederick, 21, who was killed in Iraq in 2005, was one of the guests of honor. So, too, was Mona Gunn, whose son, Seaman Cherone L. Gunn, 22, was killed in the attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole in 2000.
“It’s been an honor and a very humbling experience to be greeted, to know that people still care and this country unites behind those that paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Gunn said.
The Wreaths Across America group will move to the Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday, where thousands of wreaths will adorn the gravesites of fallen servicemembers, including Frederick, Gunn and Melton.
“We wouldn’t have what we have today if it wasn’t for the military that stepped up for us over the years, all down through history of the country,” Morrill Worcester said. “Everybody owes a tremendous amount to the military, to the veterans. That’s why we do it.”