The nonprofit Wreaths Across America’s (WAA) Mobile Education Exhibit’s colorful 48-foot-long trailer rolled into the parking lot of Our Lady Queen of Angels (OLQA) Catholic Church in Newport Beach on Feb. 27.

Co-hosted by the Colonel William Cabell Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the parish and school, the exhibit gave students a chance to understand and appreciate the sacrifices of fallen American veterans.

“The mission of Wreaths Across America is to remember the fallen, honor those who have served and their families and teach the next generation the value of freedom,” explained Karen Worcester, WAA executive director.

The organization is dedicated to placing wreaths on the graves of veterans in cemeteries worldwide.

The exhibit is a unique museum on wheels that teaches students and the community about the importance of freedom by using a trailer full of interactive exhibits, short films and veterans’ shared stories, including a video of a Gold Star mother remembering her heroic son. A small theater has space for an audience of 20.

Our Lady Queen of Angels students were shown an exhibit of how WAA has grown since it was founded in1992 by Maine businessman Morrill Worcester, who wanted to expand the annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

From a modest 5,000 wreaths in 1992, WAA expanded to 33,000 wreaths in 236 locations in 2007, and then to 2,700,000 in 3,700 locations in 2022.

Aerial views of veteran cemeteries in Europe were part of the program along with scenes of the wreaths being placed on the memorials.

Newport Beach was the WAA truck’s only stop in Orange County. Upon learning that the exhibit would be traveling through California as part of its national tour, DAR Chapter Service for Veterans Chair Anne Pellegrini contacted Our Lady Queen of Angels Church and School about co-hosting the exhibit in the church parking lot. Both Fr. Steve Sallot, pastor, and Principal Dr. Julie Tipton were enthusiastic
about the opportunity to honor veterans.

“My husband is a 30-year Marine Corps veteran,” explained Tipton. “Our kids study American and world history, but as part of our Catholic teaching, we are called to serve others. Our students will be introduced to the service of our country. We want them to understand that they can contribute to the greater world. By bringing exhibits such as WAA to our school, our students have the opportunity to develop a greater appreciation of veterans, a deeper understanding of their sacrifices and a sense of pride and patriotism.”

Fr. Steve Sallot, pastor of OLQA, said his father was a Navy pilot in WWII and several of his uncles served in that war as well. Some of his cousins and friends fought in Vietnam and growing up in Tustin, he lived close to two military bases of LTA and El Toro.

“We are aware that many times veterans and their families do not get the recognition and assistance that our country owes them,” said Fr. Sallot.

Pellegrini grew up in a military family and Fr. Sallot said he appreciated her desire to bring recognition to veterans and honor those deceased veterans.

“Our parish staff and especially our parish school staff supported the plan,” he said.

Despite the threat of rain and cold, windy weather, a good number of parishioners and community members also toured the exhibit.

“Our nearly 400 parish school students experienced the displays and I believe came out with a more profound appreciation of those who have served and those who gave their lives in service to the country we are so blessed to be living,” said Fr. Sallot.

After leaving Orange County, the WAA Mobile Education Exhibit will stop in Carlsbad, San Diego and El Centro before heading for Arizona. A number of other stops are sponsored by local chapters of the DAR.

Wreaths for veterans may be sponsored at Wreaths will be placed on National Wreaths Across America Day, on Dec. 16, 2023.