Initially known as Armistice Day, November 11 was designated a day of observation in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to honor veterans whose lives were lost during WWI. In June 1926, Congress passed a resolution to commemorate November 11 each year, and by 1938, it was designated a federal holiday, though it wasn’t until 1954 that Armistice Day officially became known as Veteran’s Day. Unlike Memorial Day, which honors American service members who died in service to their country, Veteran’s Day pays homage to living service men and women who served honorably.
This month, we’re suggesting three ways you can help veterans who are still with us but also honor those who’ve gone before us.
Volunteer with Project Healing Waters
Founded at Walter Reed in 2008, Project Healing Waters is a nationwide program designed to show disabled veterans a different sort of therapy, one deeply connected to nature and built on camaraderie.
“We’re not professionals by any means, but we teach them fly tying, rod building, and how to cast. Our Knoxville group has an outing at least every weekend. It might be in the Smoky Mountains or Tellico, and sometimes we go out of state for a long weekend,” says Joe Noe, deputy regional coordinator over the Tennessee Valley and local program lead. “It’s all free for the veteran. The only thing we charge is friendship and time.”
Generous donations keep the program going, but in-person volunteering is just as welcome. Perhaps you’re equipped to help a beginner on the water, or maybe you have a knack for tying flies. You could host an outing or help with transportation. Maybe you can provide meals for the veterans or offer support for a fundraiser. Whatever the task, the goal is always the same: to effectively serve the deserving past and present members of the Armed Forces who have made great sacrifices in the service of this nation.
“I got started in 2019 and then took over in 2021 because it saved my life,” says Joe. “Getting around other veterans who have a common ground, like fly fishing, helps us shut down our minds. I don’t hold a limit on the number of people who can help.”
Visit ProjectHealingWaters.org to learn more or contact Joe Noe at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Donate to HonorAir Knoxville
For the last 15 years, HonorAir Knoxville has taken more than 4,000 veterans from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War on a free, all-day trip to the nation’s capital to visit the memorials built “to honor their service and sacrifice.” Currently, the organization plans two trips per year, and each one is volunteer driven. To accommodate each flight at no cost to the veteran, the entire program relies on donations from generous community members and businesses.
Every flight has a professional photographer and videographer to capture the day’s events, while volunteer escorts make sure everyone gets where they need to go with ease. Additionally, there is medical staff present on every trip in case of a health emergency. Friends and family members gather at McGhee-Tyson as the flight returns to warmly welcome each veteran back home, and it’s this part that requires more volunteers.
“That’s what we hear affects them the most – the welcome home celebration,” says Jan Rector, front office coordinator of HonorAir Knoxville. “Come to the airport. Bring balloons and signs. They are so touched by how many people come and welcome them home.”
The next HonorAir flight is scheduled for Wednesday, April 10. The return flight should arrive by 7:40 p.m.
Each HonorAir trip costs approximately $500 per veteran, and every dollar donated goes straight to the cost of the trip for the veterans and not towards administrative fees. Donations are accepted via PayPal and by check.
Learn more at HonorAirKnoxville.com
Participate in Wreaths Across America
Held nationwide each December, Wreaths Across America was founded in 2007 to expand the existing annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, which began in 1992. The organization’s motto – Remember the fallen, Honor those who serve, Teach the next generation the value of freedom – is the primary focus as volunteers place live, balsam wreaths on millions of headstones across the country. Last year, more than two million people showed up across 3,702 locations nationwide. More than a third of those volunteers were children.
This year, Wreaths Across America is scheduled for Saturday, December 16. The ceremony begins at noon at the Knoxville National Cemetery on Tyson Street, with wreath placement immediately following. With more than 8,700 veteran graves to honor, volunteers are needed to get the job done. You can sign up as an individual or group. However, if attending the event isn’t doable, you can sponsor a wreath (or two, or five) at $17 each. Each wreath is hand-crafted and hand-tied with a red velvet bow at the organization’s headquarters in Columbia Falls, Maine.
Visit WreathsAcrossAmerica.org/Pages/17151/Overview to learn more.