Volunteers across the nation set out to do a very special thing Saturday, December 17, 2016 — honor the nation’s deceased veterans in the week prior to Christmas.
At Arlington National Cemetery, volunteers had completed the incredible task of placing a wreath upon more than 300,000 graves by 12:30 p.m.
“We encourage every volunteer who places a wreath on a veteran’s grave to say that veteran’s name aloud and take a moment to thank them for their service to our country. It’s a small act that goes a long way toward keeping the memory of our veterans alive,” stated Karen Worcester, Executive Director of Wreaths Across America, the organization spearheading this year’s efforts.
Worcester added, “We are not here to decorate graves. We’re here to remember not their deaths, but their lives.”
Despite the weather, similar activities occurred elsewhere across the nation Saturday, with everyone from the Girl Scouts of America to biker organizations participating in the activities — from coast to coast.
The tradition dates back to 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering the mark Arlington National Cemetery had left upon him as a 12-year-old boy, the company’s owner realized he had an opportunity to honor our nation’s veterans.
With the aid of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.
As plans were underway, a number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. James Prout,
James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia.
Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention.
Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes.
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