Approaching Memorial Day an appropriate time to support Wreaths Across America

Serving his country as a 2nd Class Petty Officer (E-5) on active duty in the U.S. Navy from 1968 to 1972, Chris Albrecht also had a role in helping the United States win The Cold War versus the former Soviet Union.

He served on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea

”keeping an eye on the Soviet Union’s navy and air force” as an aviation electronics technician, he said.

Albrecht now keeps an equally fervent eye on helping to further dignify those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice, killed in action, or who passed away following honorable years of military service.

As Public Information officer for the Capt. Bill Robinson Chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America and president and PIO of United Veterans Council of East Tennessee, Albrecht has been a leading Knox area promoter of Wreath Across America.

A national “grassroots effort” with no government funding, the goal of WAA is placing a wreath for every fallen veteran “in Veteran Cemeteries across the country — and now some overseas locations — on National Wreaths Across America Day, which is Dec. 17 this year,” he said.

For the past five years, Albrecht has been “a member of the committee that works on the Knoxville WAA program nearly year-round,” he said. “Our goal is to be continuously increasing awareness of the program.

“Every year on National Wreaths Across America Day, hundreds of volunteers show up at our three cemeteries to place wreaths at the headstones of our Veterans,” he added. “During the opening ceremony, we remind those volunteers that ‘A person dies twice: The first time when they draw their last breath. Then again later when their name is no longer spoken.’

“This is why after placing the wreath against the headstone, we ask the volunteer to rise, take a step back and say that Veteran’s name out loud,” Albrecht added. “We won’t let them be forgotten.”

As for support, “We receive some corporate/company donations, but the majority comes from individual donors,” Albrecht said. “Some people donate one wreath, some donate multiple wreaths. We are thankful for every donation.”

He stressed the importance of sending donations through or by mailing donations to Wreaths Across America, P.O. Box 50054, Knoxville, TN 37950.

Last year marked “the first time that we received enough donations to honor all the Veterans in our three Knoxville Veteran cemeteries,” Albrecht said of the nearly 18,000 veterans laid to rest at National Cemetery, 939 Tyson St. (next to Old Gray Cemetery), and at two Tennessee State Veteran Cemeteries, the older of which is 5901 Lyons View Pike across from Lakeshore Park, along with State Veteran Cemetery, 2200 East Gov. John Sevier Highway.

While pointing out that Vietnam Veterans “are an aging group” along with World War II Veterans, Albrecht added, “The feedback we receive from families and the general public is always positive.

“Sometimes we see a tear; usually a smile.”

However, “The saddest emotion we see is when people discover that all Veterans in the cemeteries aren’t necessarily honored with a wreath — when they learn that WAA is a grassroots effort with no state or federal funding and sometimes there just hasn’t been enough money donated,” he added.

Perhaps that’s especially true as Memorial Day approaches.

“As a veteran, I find Memorial Day to be very poignant,” Albrecht said. “When I enlisted in the Navy, I knew that there was a chance that I may not come home. There was an active war in Southeast Asia, and I could have easily received orders that would have placed me directly in harm’s way.

“So when we observe Memorial Day, I think of those who didn’t have the opportunity to return home and resume their lives,” he added. “The names of five of my high school classmates are enshrined on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, aka ‘The Wall’.

“I have visited Pearl Harbor and have seen the names enshrined in the USS Arizona Memorial. I have a jar of sand from the beach at Normandy that a friend brought me.”

While pointing out that many people “only think of having a day off, cookouts and Memorial Day sales” on the last Monday each May, Albrecht added, “On Memorial Day, I always think of those who “gave it all.”