Wreaths Across America

On Saturday, December 12th we joined our close friends in participating in Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. This was our first WAA experience, and it’s hard to describe how honored we were to be there. This moving event leaves your heart singing and is a profound reminder of a critical, selfless component of our country and community.

We arrived to a gorgeous view of early morning sunbeams breaking over the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial. We caught up with our group and moved quickly through the line into the cemetery, so we had a lot of time before the trucks unloaded the wreaths. This gave me a chance to ‘warm up’ the kids and get them used to Aunt Kate’s camera-stalking.

At 9:45 the truck doors opened and we received our instructions: Place wreaths with bows up, lay them at a 45 degree angle so the wind doesn’t blow them over, and–most importantly–pause as you lay each wreath down to honor that service man or woman. The goal isn’t speed or quantity. You may be the only person to visit that gravesite since the last wreath ceremony, so take a moment to read the tombstone, think about where and when he/she served and lived, reflect. Honor.

Here are a few moments from our morning:

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The kids took their wreath-laying jobs very seriously and seemed truly to understand its importance (and had a blast – behavior all around was shockingly good).

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We also paused to take a few group photos (thank you to the random stranger for braving a viewfinder camera and taking this!). Charlie also took the camera from me so I could get in a few shots.

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For our last set of wreaths, we headed up the hill to Section 27. Between the sun starting to poke through again and the views down the hill, it was a beautiful place to finish.

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Photo lesson for the day: I spent the whole morning shooting on Manual so I could expose for the subjects’ skin. If on Auto, the white-grey sky and white tombstones would have really thrown the exposure. Instead, I exposed so the sky was blown out, taking histogram to the far right, but the faces were well lit, without needing flash. Then, since I took them all in RAW, I did some post-processing in Lightroom to bring down the highlights in the sky, leaving the rest of the scene as shot.

Before leaving, I tried to grab just a few scenic shots.

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December 12, 2015 is also the one-year anniversary of my Grandad’s death. This time last year, we spent so much time reflecting, talking about, and realizing even more his significant impact on each of us. This year, the 12th was a day to quietly replay those thoughts. Grandaddy served in WWII, so Wreaths Across America was the perfect way to spend the morning–at those tombstones for WWII servicemen from Washington, DC, I paused and wondered, did they know him?

That afternoon, I cut a few branches from our Christmas tree, went to my parents’ and did the same, then made an arrangement for his grave. Not quite a wreath, but a modified version that would work in the columbarium. I placed my last cluster of pines at his site, then watched the sun go down behind his church.

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