Fourteen-year-old Californian Lyndsey Jacobsen isn’t old enough to get her driver’s permit yet. But she’s somehow plenty old enough to learn to fly a plane ― and also make a difference for thousands of veterans interred at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery.
Lyndsey, a Civil Air Patrol member, is a new volunteer location coordinator on behalf of Wreaths Across America (WAA), the nonprofit that places holiday greenery on military graves every Christmas season. She will be in charge of planning the special WAA ceremony on Dec. 17, coordinating with WAA’s sponsorship groups and partners, publicizing ceremony details, working with the delivery trucks that bring wreaths and ensuring volunteers place as many wreaths as possible for the 40,000 service members buried there.
“I want these veterans to be honored and remembered, even though they’re not here anymore,” said Lyndsey, an aspiring pilot and Air Force Academy hopeful. “I want to inspire future generations and make families happy that have come to honor their loved ones with the placing of a wreath this December.”
Lyndsey learned about WAA and its mission in 2021 from her Civil Air Patrol squadron. She and her fellow cadets raised enough money for 130 wreaths ― and she was responsible for about 117 of them.
This year, she found herself hearing about WAA again from her local Tuskegee Airmen Heritage Chapter’s Youth Legacy program. Nathaniel Roberts, the program’s co-coordinator and grandson of one of the first Tuskegee airmen, immediately zeroed in on Lyndsey, a Youth Legacy member, to take over the location coordinator position.
“There are not a long of young people who do what we do,” he said. “Lyndsey was the perfect fit for coordinator ― she’s got the drive, the love for aviation and history, and we were thrilled to have her.”
That love for aviation gets displayed at every one of Lyndsey’s flying lessons, usually taken in a Cessna 172. A lover of checklists and plans, Lyndsey is nearing 30 hours of flight time and hopes to someday be the youngest girl to fly solo around the world.
“I love the freedom that flying gives me,” she said. “The rules of flying are freedom to me; it’s just a different experience and I love it.”
In addition to her hours spent at flight school, Lyndsey, a high school freshman, estimates she has spent approximately 100 hours on her WAA project. She usually works on it an hour a day after school.
Lyndsey has been studying the stories of some of the veterans buried at Sacramento Valley. Those include Marine Marty Feldman, the second coach of the Oakland Raiders, and airman Earsell Mackbee, a five-season Minnesota Viking.
“I’ve always been a big nerd about World War II, and I have personal ties with several World War II vets,” she explained. “It always brings a smile to my face when I can tell my generation about these men and women, because they’re truly inspiring to me.”
Blanketing Sacramento Valley National Cemetery is a big goal. Thus far, Lyndsey and her team at the Youth Legacy program have raised enough to purchase 1,227 wreaths ― but their new coordinator and Roberts are hoping for at least 15,000.
“This wreath-laying is our first event since COVID, and it’s one of the best ones,” Roberts said. “A lot of what our organization does is continuing our legacy, and this is the perfect opportunity for our entire mission.”
Lyndsey is thrilled for the responsibility, despite the weight on her young shoulders.
“Placing these wreaths, with hopefully a lot of people showing up to help or for the ceremony, is truly something I can’t wait to see,” she said.