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A Christmas Tradition Honors Idaho's Fallen Heroes

Wreaths Across America Idaho

One of the holiday season's more poignant events, and perhaps its most solemn, will take place Saturday, December 19 at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, one of thousands of cemeteries across the nation that will be a part of  the tradition known as Wreaths Across America. But this year, only a select few individuals will have the considerable task of placing more than 5,000 wreaths at the graves of Idaho's fallen heroes.

Tamara Earp is the volunteer coordinator for the Idaho event. She visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the history of the event, the detailed preparations, and the very personal moments at the cemetery that motivate her year after year.

“I do what I do for them. And this year is going to be much different.”

Read the full transcript below:

PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. There are so many traditions of the holiday season; one of the more poignant is Wreaths Across America, where we remember our veterans by placing special remembrance wreaths on the graves of our country's fallen heroes. Tamara Earp is here. She helps make this formidable task happen at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery here in the Treasure Valley. She has been the volunteer coordinator since 2014. Tamara, good morning.

TAMARA EARP: Good morning.

PRENTICE: So, Tamara, I know your husband served a couple of decades in the U.S. Army; and we know him as the Director of the Veterans Cemetery. Is that your connection to this amazing event?

EARP: It is, yes.

PRENTICE: So, what inspired this?

Credit Wreaths Across America Idaho

EARP: Well, once he retired and we moved here to Boise back in 2012, he became the Bureau Chief at the Veterans Cemetery. And I wanted to get involved with helping the program. It sounded like a neat thing to be involved with, and a neat program. I started to work with the Civil Air Patrol and got involved with it, more and more, each year. And so, this will be my 7th year of doing this program at the Veterans Cemetery here in Idaho.

PRENTICE: So, tell us about…and I love the fact that you call it a SWAT team. It's not the SWAT team that most of us know. SWAT stands for what?

EARP: It is called the Special Wreath Advisory Team.. And so, I was one of eight location coordinators that were picked 2018 to go to Columbia Falls, Maine, and actually visit with Karen and Morrill Worcester, who started this program, and I had that special bond with other location coordinators throughout the United States.

PRENTICE: So, again, all of this started in Maine.

EARP: Yes, back in, I believe, 1992 is when it started with Morrill Worcester, who was a wreath maker, and had some excess wreaths. He remembered going to Arlington. And so, he took those extra wreaths down to Arlington and placed them in an older section of the cemetery where nobody visited more.

PRENTICE: How many wreaths are you hoping to have at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery this year?

EARP: So, this year we should be placing just over 5,100.

PRENTICE: Oh my goodness. So, in years past, I know you had a lot of volunteers: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. But I have to assume that things are very different this year.

Credit Wreaths Across America Idaho

EARP: Absolutely. With us going into Stage 2 under Governor Little’s restrictions, we had to make that decision and close it off to the public. It's not an easy decision to make. And I know a lot of people are disappointed. Many, of course, fortunately do understand why we are doing that. We're just having a limited amount of people come out on Saturday morning and help us place those wreaths where we can do it safely and follow the CDC guidelines and the State of Idaho guidelines under Stage 2.

PRENTICE: Well, full disclosure: my mom and my dad are laid to rest at Arlington. And Wreaths Across America is an important part of my own family's Christmas. So, I have to assume that there have been those rare moments when you step back and look out on the cemetery with the thousands of wreaths in place.

EARP: Absolutely. Especially after everybody…when they're still there and they have placed them.. and watching their loved ones and the families gather. I do what I do for them. And this year is going to be much different because I'm not going to get to see that. I do it for those families. And again, I hope they all understand and realize how hard and difficult this is, this decision.

PRENTICE: And restriction or no restriction, the honor and the memory lives on.

EARP: Absolutely. Yes.

PRENTICE: Well, Tamara, best of luck on Saturday. We will miss being out there to see it,,, that’s a bit sad. But knowing that you are making it happen, makes Christmas that much more complete. Tamara will help make Wreaths Across America happen at the Idaho State Veteran's Cemetery. Happy holidays to you.

EARP: Same to you. Thank you, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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