The sea of perfectly aligned white stones extends as far as the eye can see. The somber silence in the area allows visitors to hear their racing heartbeat. Every year since 1992, Wreaths Across America lays wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. In recent years, the project has grown to include cemeteries all over the world.
The wreaths are placed to honor and remember those who fought for our country. This year, WAA has set an ambitious goal to lay a wreath on every gravestone at Arlington. Volunteers will be needed to decorate approximately 230,000 graves on Dec. 13.
“It’s hard to put into words how much the trucking community is involved with Wreaths Across America,” Wreaths Across America spokesperson Amber Caron told Land Line. “(Without them), from the drivers who volunteer their time to the companies who volunteer their equipment, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”
Morrill Worcester, the owner of Worcester Wreath Co., in Harrington, Maine, noticed in 1992 he had a surplus of wreaths towards the end of the year. Worcester made arrangements to distribute the extra wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery. More specifically, the wreaths were placed in the oldest section of the cemetery, a place that received little attention over the years.
Worcester’s good deed went relatively unnoticed until 2005, when a photo of the wreaths at Arlington went viral on the internet. Since then, Wreaths Across America has turned into a nonprofit organization, distributing over a million wreaths at around 1,000 location across the country with more than 80 volunteer trucking companies and drivers lending a helping hand.
According to Caron, the group has a goal of placing a wreath on every stone at Arlington in recognition of the cemetery’s 150th anniversary this year. There are approximately 230,000 gravestones at Arlington. Last year, 143,000 wreaths were placed on graves, so volunteers will be needed to achieve the goal.
“One of the hardest things is when you’re placing wreaths at Arlington and you’re getting to the end of the row and you’re out of wreaths,” Caron said. “Those next three stones, those people all have stories and families and are all deserving.”
OOIDA Life Member Michael Frybarger has been volunteering for Wreaths Across America since 2007 after he ran across an article on the Internet. Frybarger’s father fought in World War II, and he has always had deep respect for veterans. His advice to those thinking about volunteering?
“Go for it. It’s a life-changing experience,” Frybarger told Land Line. “Anybody that’s ever done it, they’ll want to do it every year. It’s hard to put into words.”
Frybarger recalled a moment when he was standing in line at Arlington National Cemetery and noticed a mother with her boys. Moved by their patriotism and dedication to honor the soldiers, Frybarger engaged in conversation with them. The mother mentioned how the visit was supposed to be a family event, but her husband never returned from Afghanistan. Despite their loss, they continued to make the trip and planned on going every year.
“I almost started crying right there,” Frybarger said, “... because I didn’t really know what to say then.”
While Arlington gets a lot of attention, local cemeteries still need to be represented. According to Frybarger, coordinating a ceremony with your local cemetery is fairly simple. He also noted how overwhelming the support can be.
Last year, Frybarger’s hometown of West Unity, Ohio, was slammed with a snowstorm. The day of the wreath-laying, the town was covered in more than 8 inches of snow with below-freezing temperatures. Not expecting a huge turnout, he was stunned and moved to see 40-50 people show up to honor and remember the soldiers at Floral Grove Cemetery.
Caron noted that any cemetery and monument can participate in Wreaths Across America. Anyone who wants their local cemetery involved should reach out to the cemetery officials. From there, interested parties can go to Wreaths Across America’s website to sign up their location. Each location will receive seven ceremonial wreaths, one for each military branch and one for POW/MIAs.
With Wreaths Across America’s mission of “Remember, Honor, Teach,” Frybarger also points out the education goals of the volunteer group.
“To teach the youth the true costs of their freedoms that they enjoy every day,” Frybarger said. “Also to remind us older folks our freedoms came at a cost. Always have and they always will.”
For more information about Wreaths Across America and volunteering, visit wreathsacrossamerica.org.
Copyright © OOIDA