It was near the end of the holiday season in 1992, and the Worcester Wreath Co. in Maine found themselves with an excess of wreaths.
“I ordered too much greenery,” said Morrill Worcester, the company president.”So I wanted to do something special. I had an idea, but I wasn’t sure we could make it work.”
Worcester’s idea was to make up 5,000 wreaths and take them to Arlington National Cemetery to decorate the graves of veterans. As a child, he’d experienced a trip to Arlington and the impression would last a lifetime.
With the help of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe from Maine, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery, a section which received fewer visitors with each passing year.
In 2005, Worcester said a photo was posted on the Internet. “The photo was taken by an Air Force photographer from the Pentagon who went to Arlington after we were there and stumbled upon the area where we decorated,” said Worcester. “It had just snowed.”
The image Worcester speaks of is stunning. Stark, compelling in its stillness, it is a photo of hundreds of soldiers’ gravestones adorned with simple greenery wreaths and red ribbons, covered in snow.
Worcester said when the photo hit the Internet, the project simply “took off,” capturing national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from like-minded people wanting to duplicate the Arlington project at their national and state cemeteries. It spurred the Arlington project to become nationwide, with a new name – “Wreaths Across America.”
In 2006, with the help of a number of Maine’s Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, more than 150 locations held wreath-laying ceremonies simultaneously.
By 2007 the requests for more wreaths grew. By 2008, more than 300 locations held wreath-laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries.
“We went from 5,000 wreaths to 105,000 and this year it could be as many as 200,000 wreaths,” said Worcester, who is quick to share credit. “It’s not all my work. We have about 60,000 volunteers. We are elated that there’s that many people who feel the same. Right now, there’s 402 locations where we go to decorate. Not all are cemeteries; some are national monuments.”
He says that in 2009, the project is working hard to send truckloads of wreaths to even more locations.
Volunteer truckers are needed to haul wreaths from Maine to their eventual destinations on the headstones of our service men and women.
“We need 50 trucks total and we have about 30-35, so we are still looking for truckers who want to haul a load,” he said.
Trucks are needed to cover deliveries in all regions. For details, click here.
To find more information about the program or to see the photo, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org. Be sure to check out the video compilation of the wreath-laying activities for recent years.
The laying of the wreaths is planned for Dec. 12.
– By Sandi Soendker, managing editor