Rita Sullivan to help lay wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery


Everyone has a ‘bucket list’ – a list of things that they would like to accomplish in their lifetimes.

It may include travel to exotic locations; or meeting important people; or achieving a long pursued goal.

For Rita Sullivan of Vevay, one of the main things on her list was to travel to Washington, D.C., and participate in the placing of wreaths on the graves of the soldiers who are buried in Arlington National Cemetery for the Christmas season.

And, in just a few weeks, thanks to her sons, Scotty, Jason, and Tye, and their families – she will get to check that off of her list.

“It’s something that I’ve talked about for years, since the first time Lowell Wayne and I went to Washington and visited Arlington,” Rita said. “I guess the boys were listening to me, after all.”

With the demands of busy families, Rita said that this year instead of having a family Thanksgiving dinner, she told all of her family that she was taking them bowling here in Vevay. She thought that would be a nice change of pace and surprise – but the surprise was on her.

“I was bowling, and we were spread over about four lanes, but when I turned around, they whole family was standing there behind me. I knew something was up,” Rita said. “That’s when they gave me the wreath.”

The program is called “Wreaths Across America”, and seeks to have a special wreath placed on the graves of fallen service men and women for Christmas. Although the vast majority of them find their way to Arlington, anyone can purchase one of the wreaths and have it delivered so they can place it.

Through the efforts of Morgan-Nay Funeral Centre in Madison, wreaths are purchased from the same program and place on the graves of each veteran in the Veterans Cemetery in Madison.

At the bowling alley on Saturday night, the Sullivan family presented Rita with one of those wreaths, which was to be placed on the grave of her late husband and their father and grandfather, Lowell Wayne Sullivan, who is buried in the Vevay Cemetery.

The gesture brought Rita to tears, because of her long affinity for the program and what it does – but that wasn’t the end of the surprise.

Tye Sullivan, on behalf of his brothers, began to read a letter:

Merry Christmas , Mom!

On behalf of the entire family, we have purchased a Memorial Wreath in honor of dad for you to place on his headstone this holiday season. The National “Wreaths Across America” motto encourages everyone to Remember, Honor, and Teach about our veterans. We do not know anyone who lives that motto everyday more than you. The three of us grew up in a household that taught the true meaning of Patriotism and you and dad were a shining example on HOW and WHY we should Honor our nations heroes.

Every year, thousands of people gather at cemeteries across the country to honor those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice by placing a wreath at each headstone of our Nation’s fallen soldiers. The Wreaths Across America event encourages each person to take the time to read the stone and honor their memory by saying their name out loud. Their motto this year is “Say Their Names.”

What better way to celebrate the holidays than by honoring those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Mom, you have dedicated your life to Remembering, Honoring, and Teaching about veterans to each of us in this room and we would like to say Thank You! We cannot think of anyone more deserving to participate in this year’s Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery than you! Merry Christmas from all of us. We have arranged for you to represent our family as a volunteer on Saturday, December 17th, in Washington, D.C. Merry Christmas, Thank You and Say their Names!


The thought of doing this for their mom began to take shape when the three Sullivan brothers were talking on Easter Sunday. They decided to look into just how a person got to be a part of the program, and found that they could arrange for their mom to be a part of the special program.

“We decided at Easter this year that we were going to surprise mom with the trip for Christmas,” Tye said. “As far as the event is concerned, it’s open to the public. You register, but it’s not required. I’ve been getting emails about it for several months now.”

Tye will be traveling to Washington with his mom, while the rest of the family will remain here to help in honoring veterans on an ongoing basis, as they have been taught to do.

“All I know is that at 8 a.m. on Saturday the 17th the gates will open at Arlington to allow the public in, and by 8:15 a.m. the convoy of all of the semi trailers that are bringing the wreaths and go to certain parts of Arlington – I think there are 60-70 semis to haul them all – and there will be opening ceremonies at 9:30 a.m. and at 10 a.m. the actual wreath laying process starts.”

Tye said that some people go to a designated area so that they can lay wreaths for family members, while others just go wherever they are needed to help place the more than 400,000 wreaths on the graves.

“It’s just an amazing surprise and honor,” Rita said. “They don’t get me very often, but they sure did this time. What an honor.”