Wreaths Across America By Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
November 30, 2012
Christmas. There are many Christmas traditions, but perhaps none as impressive or touching as the laying of wreaths at Arlington Cemetery, as well as veteran’s cemeteries in all fifty states and beyond. The Arlington story began with Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine. Worcester was a twelve year old boy when he won a trip to Washington D.C., where he was able to visit Arlington Cemetery. This left a lasting impression on him, which followed him through life and a successful career in business. It reminded him that his good fortune was due in large part to the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. In 1992, the Worcester Wreath Company found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, he realized he had the opportunity to honor our countries veterans. With the help of Maine’s Senator Snow, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed in one of the older sections of Arlington, a section that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year. As plans went on, other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. A local trucking company generously provided the transpiration to Virginia, and local American Legions and VFW posts gathered to decorate each wreath with a red hand tied bow. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington helped organize the wreath laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This tradition went on quietly until 2005 when a photo of the decorated stones at Arlington began circulating the internet. Now the project had national attention. Requests came from all over to either help at Arlington, or begin similar projects. Already donating thousands of wreaths for Arlington, Worchester was unable to donate thousands to each state, but he did begin sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military and for POW/MIA’s. The Patriot Guard Riders now escort the wreaths going to Arlington. In 2007, the Worcester family, along with other individuals who helped with the wreath ceremonies founded Wreaths Across America. The group’s mission? Remember. Honor. Teach. In 2010 Wreaths Across America laid over 220,000 wreaths. In 2011, 600 cemeteries participated in the event, held annually the second Saturday in December at precisely 11 a.m. Included in this ceremony is the wreath laying at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter, Iowa.
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