Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, DC, is the nation’s largest burial ground for men and women who served in the U.S. military. On the rolling green-grass hills, more than 300,000 identical white, stone markers are arranged in perfect rows.
Each Christmas season, several thousand of those grave markers are adorned with fresh green wreaths, each decorated with a red ribbon.
It’s the work of Morrill Worcester, who owns the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington, ME. Worcester started the tradition on his own, but now has lots of volunteer help at Arlington and other military cemeteries.
As he and a long convoy of trucks and cars headed for Arlington for this year’s wreath-layings, “Land Line Now” caught up with him by phone and asked how the tradition began.
“Well, back in ’92, it actually started by mistake,” Worcester told Reed Black on “Land Line Now.”
“I bought too many wreaths, and I didn’t want to throw them away because they were nice and fresh. I tried to think of a place where it would be appropriate for them to be placed, and I thought of Arlington because I went there when I was a boy.”
That first year Worcester took 5,000 wreaths.
This year, for the first time, the number of wreaths going to Arlington was doubled to 10,000. It took two semis to haul the greenery. Trucks and truckers from Bluebird Ranch in Jonesboro, ME, and Hartt Transportation Co. in Bangor, ME, stepped up to tote the load.
“The truckers are just totally behind us,” Worcester said.
The wreath convoy takes a full week to work its way down U.S. Highway 1 from Maine to Arlington, stopping at schools and veterans homes along the way.
As Worcester talked with “Land Line Now” via cell phone, the convoy was passing through Darien, CT. Worcester said the wreath convoy had included 40 or 50 vehicles in addition to the semis full of wreaths and about 60 motorcyclists.
“Someone named this the World’s Longest Veterans Parade and I guess it is since it’s 740 miles down Route 1 from Maine to Arlington,” Worcester said.
Along the route people have come to anticipate the wreath convoy and stop their daily activities to honor the passing vehicles and the veterans that their cargo honors.
“We just passed a firehouse and all the firemen were out, and they had the ladder truck out with a huge flag,” Worcester said. “Some people stand at attention and salute; others put their hands over their hearts.
“Every town people come out. It’s extremely heartwarming to think that there are that many people who think like we do.”
Worcester said people in the towns along the way have come to expect the convoy to show up every year around Christmas. And the images and words on the sides of the two tractor-trailers make their arrival unmistakable. This year, murals on the semis had the words “Remember, honor and teach,” and “We make it our business to never forget.”
The Maine State Police sent two cruisers with the convoy, and Worcester said it was as if the officers were actually guarding the wreaths as they made their way to the national cemetery for the official wreath-laying ceremony on Dec. 15.
Across the country on that Saturday, and in several foreign countries, wreath-laying ceremonies were all set for noon. Worcester said that 286 veterans’ cemeteries in the U.S. and 24 overseas participated this year. A total of 35,000 wreaths were placed to honor veterans this year through the program that started from Worcester’s excess inventory in 1992.
Portland Air Freight, New England Motor Freight, Prime Inc., Boyle Transportation, and Purdue Chicken also hauled loads of wreaths to be distributed at cemeteries in other parts of the country.
“We feel very fortunate to have what we have,” Worcester said. “We’ve grown a great deal over the years in our business and it has to do with the freedom we have in this country. We wanted to give back to those who sacrificed for our freedom.”
– By Land Line staff
Reed Black contributed to this report.