LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — If Santa ran a military operation, one would probably expect a major "after-action meeting" after Christmas night. The same goes for all the charities that have been working so hard these last few weeks.
The husband and wife who organize Little Rock's annual "Wreaths Across America" event at the national cemetery on Dec. 17th can point to a huge turnout as they already start looking ahead to next year.
"We stand on the shoulders of giants," said Bubba Beason, who coordinates the effort along with his wife, Angela. "Here they are. I mean, this is our Arlington [National Cemetery], here in Central Arkansas. We've got 22,000 buried here. I want to fill this place."
That enthusiasm is part of the confluence of the spirit of the holidays, and the spirit of patriotism, as hundreds brave the cold weather to lay wreaths on veterans' headstones.
"My husband and I do this together," Angela Beason said. "He plans a lot of the logistics with the trucks and the staging of the wreaths. I'm working on sponsorships, and getting specific requests to make sure that we honor those that the families ask for."
Among the logistics, the Beasons have to figure out how to get thousands of wreaths from Maine. Then, they come up with ideas on how to get biker groups, Scout troops, and big businesses all working together.
It's more than a one-day deal.
"One of our big challenges is finding sponsors for all of the wreaths, and that starts today for next year," Angela said.
Other tasks include organizing the clean-up effort and spreading awareness at smaller events, like a memorial at the State Capitol Vietnam Monument held a few days before the main event at the cemetery.
The vets who participate in these events seem genuinely touched by the scope. The progress made goes beyond this one day, even if the organizers deflect the credit, remaining focused on the heroes they honor.
"We're really thankful for everyone that came out today," Angela said. "We have beautiful weather and it's just a great day to honor those who have served and be a part of this. I'm just honored to be a part of it."
Donations to Wreaths Across America are still being matched through Jan. 15. The organization will match funds that come through established non-profits like Run For the Fallen.