Local educators help lay wreaths at Arlington

Teachers from Sparta, Newton take part in remembrance rite

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  • Wreaths grace the graves of the Remembered Photos provided

  • Mike Milligan, left, and Mike Bussow volunteered to honor fallen soldiers

  • Wreaths wwewre laid at Arlington and over 1,200 other sire here and abroad

By Laurie Gordon

— Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, the mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at over 1,200 additional locations in all 50 US states, at sea, and abroad.

Two local educators, Mike Milligan, who recently retired from teaching at Sparta Middle School, and Mike Bussow, a science teacher at Newton High School, were among the volunteers who partook on Saturday. Of utmost importance is that those laying the wreaths say the name of each and every veteran aloud.

“It was truly an honor to participate in the wreath laying,” said Milligan. “There were about 30,000 people there volunteering. [Bussow} and I were number 3000 and 3001 to enter the cemetery. According to the information we received a soldier dies twice, once when they pass from this earth and secondly when their name is never spoken. That is why, when each of us would lay a wreath at the grave site, we would pause remember, honor and say their name so that soldier would never die twice.”

Milligan added, “ It was a remarkable experience with all those volunteers helping one another. It was not a celebration it was not a party but rather a time to honor. Near the end when we each had one wreath left we were amazed that we could not find a grave site without a wreath. Finally after walking and searching for about a half an hour with family found two grave sites in need of a wreath. It was well worth the journey. What an incredible experience.”

Bussow said, “A truly unique experience with 30,000 volunteers and 240,700 wreaths is what I heard. Everyone was respectful in honoring those who served. We arrived in time for the convoy of trucks, and at the conclusion Mike and I walked over 30 minutes looking for headstones that did not have wreaths to set our last ones.”

Miligan retired from the Sparta School District in June 2015 after 36 years of teaching.

“Now I am lucky enough to have what I'd like to call my dream job,” Milligan said. “I work for a company called Curriculum Travel of America ...CTA. I serve as an area representative doing parent meetings to talk about class trips, but the best part of the job is also being a trip director for the students on their class trips to Washington,Philadelphia or Boston. As trip director we each are responsible for our own bus of students that we share information about the sites we see as well as some stories about the places we visit. I found out about the wreath laying ceremony from a fellow trip director Jim Hoffmaster. I was so interested that I asked him to let me know and he made the hotel arrangements for a group of us to go and be involved.”

Though neither Mike has any military experience, as educators and brothers of the Knights of Columbus the idea of honoring veterans is very important to both.

Milligan said. “One of the goals of the wreath laying event is that each of us will place wreaths on the graves not as a decoration but rather a way of honoring those veterans who sacrificed for us. We were instructed to place a wreath and say the veteran's name before moving onto the next grave site.. saying the name is also a way of keeping the memory of this veteran alive.”

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