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'Welcome home' to Vietman vet at Wreaths Across America exhibit

BIDDEFORD — When Bill Clark walked up the steps into the Wreaths Across America mobile exhibit in Biddeford on Monday morning, he was on a mission, to learn more about how the organization operates and to chat with WAA personnel.

Clark, of Old Orchard Beach, is a member of the Rolling Thunder group in Westbrook. He’ll be taking on duties as the events chair later this year, and so when he heard that the public exhibit was coming to Brown Dog Carriers & Logistics in Biddeford, Clark made plans to attend.

What Clark didn’t know was that he would be recognized for his two tours of service in Vietnam. And he didn’t know that he would hear the words that Vietnam War veterans often didn’t hear when they returned home from their service. He didn’t know someone would look him in the eye and utter the words “welcome home.”

The impromptu, but sincere welcome happens every time a Vietnam veteran takes a tour of the exhibit. When he learns a Vietnam War veteran is in the room, Stefan Brann the “driver ambassador” of the WAA mobile display, asks if they’ve received a pin from the organization. If the answer is no, there’s a presentation, along with a T-shirt, a certificate, and a resounding “welcome home.”

How did it feel to Clark?

“Great,” he said and added that a video that outlines the qualities of a veteran was a particularly moving part of the exhibit.

“Everyone should see it,” Clark said.

Wreaths Across America is an organization that delivers Christmas wreaths from Washington County, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, each December. Volunteers place the wreaths on the graves of veterans buried there. As well, volunteer groups in hundreds of cities and towns across the country take part, securing wreaths from the organization to place on veterans’ graves in their own communities.

WAA’s mission is “Remember, Honor, Teach.” In keeping with that mission, some time ago the organization rolled out a mobile Education Exhibit, intended to help teach not only the next generation but all community members and visitors about the services and sacrifices of the nation’s military.

Veterans, active-duty military, their families, and the local community were invited to visit Monday, June 29.

It was a misty morning in Biddeford, but the event, which was to wind down by midafternoon, had seen attendance from adults and children, learning more about veterans and Wreaths Across America

WAA Communications Director Amber Caron said children often teach the adults in their family what they’ve learned.

“A veteran is a foreign thing to many if there are none in your family,” said Caron.

Brann joined WAA in February, specifically to take the exhibit to school events and trade shows across the country. But when coronavirus hit, many stops were canceled. Still, with masks and social distancing, events like the one in Biddeford on Monday are now being scheduled.

Graig Morin, owner and president of Brown Dog Carriers & Logistics has been involved with WAA for the past few years, supplying a truck and a driver to haul wreaths to Virginia, and he’s attended the ceremonies there.

“I enjoy working with veterans’ groups,” said Morin. “We wanted to do this.”

Another event Morin is pursuing would see a WAA event in Biddeford and Saco this Christmas season, where wreaths would be placed on veterans’ graves in local cemeteries. He said he’s working with six cemeteries in the two communities to see if that can happen.

Caron said WAA has given $12 million to organizations like VFW chapters, Rolling Thunder, Daughters of the American Revolution, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and others throughout the country since 2007, when it was founded. The groups  raise funds for wreaths for placement on veteran graves in local communities and receive $5 back for each sponsored wreath to assist their own organizations.

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