Local Rolling Thunder chapter seeking support for ‘Wreaths Across America’ project

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Pete Headley placed this wreath during a previous year in remembrance of Donald B. Canestrari. (Photo Contributed)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — The local chapter of Rolling Thunder (RTTN#4) once again is collecting donations to place evergreen wreaths on the graves of deceased veterans, to show respect and appreciation during the December holidays.

The organization’s effort is part of the national “Wreaths Across America” project.

Wreaths, created in Maine with live balsam boughs and decorated with a red ribbon, will be ordered for placement on a portion of the 17,000+ graves at the Veterans Administration (VA) Mountain Home National Cemetery in Johnson City. Joining forces to raise funds with other veteran-oriented organizations, the Rolling Thunder chapter’s ultimate goal is to place a wreath at every headstone.

“We need to show the next generation how the U.S. military personnel of all five branches preserve our freedom, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, dying in battle…we need to honor all those men and women in our country who served,” said Pete Headley, RTTN#4 group leader and chapter coordinator for Wreaths Across America.

“Last year was our best year ever—with our combined efforts, we were able to place 9,500 wreaths, more than half the graves,” Headley continued, “but we’re still missing out on honoring around 6,500 other gravesites buried at Mountain Home.”

Graves of loved ones buried at the VA Cemetery may be honored with each donation. On Saturday, Dec. 19, the public is encouraged to help put wreaths on graves, starting at 9 a.m., as directed by the Mountain Home National Cemetery staff. Masks and social-distancing will be required of all participants. The wreaths will remain until early January.

The cost per wreath is $15, all tax-deductible. Checks are to be made out to “Wreaths Across America” and mailed to 1056 Waterbrooke Lane, Johnson City, TN 37604. The deadline for receipt of checks is Thursday, Nov. 26. If the wreath is to be placed at a specific gravestone, please include the veteran’s full name, date of birth, and date of passing or cemetery section letter/gravestone number, if known. For more information, contact Headley at pfheadley@gmail.com or (423) 926-2233.

Rolling Thunder is a military-oriented organization using motorcycles to bring attention to the plight of many military veterans and to honor veterans of all wars since the American Revolution. At the request of funeral homes and families, Rolling Thunder members can provide a motorcycle escort for transport of remains to local cemeteries as well as provide an honor guard ceremony.

Headley and his fellow RTTN#4 members have encouraged ailing veterans through visitation, pizza socials, and card-playing at the VA Mountain Home campus. The chapter also hosts veteran recognition days at nursing homes and assists annually at East Tennessee State University’s Veterans Day ceremony.

RTTN#4 covers Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Western North Carolina welcomes new people to join. The organization’s mission is to educate the public about American prisoner-of-war (POW) and missing-in-action (MIA) military personnel and help American veterans from all wars.

It meets the second Monday each month at the American Legion Post #49 Watauga, 111 W. G Street in Elizabethton, at 7 PM.

“You don’t have to be ex-military nor do you need to ride a motorcycle to become a member,” Headley said. “The Rolling Thunder motto is ‘Never Forget’ as they do their best to make this a reality. ‘Wreaths Across America’ provides an opportunity for the public to do this as well.” For more information on RTTN#4, go to http://www.rollingthundertn4.com/; for more information on wreaths, go to https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/.

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