On December 14th, cemeteries across the country will be hosting wreath-laying ceremonies, all in support of our nation’s veterans. This day, formally known as the National Wreaths Across America Day, was first started in 1992 by Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Maine. Today, wreaths are placed at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 1,600 locations in the United States, at sea, and abroad. So, how did this man create a project and inspire a nonprofit organization that spread throughout the country? Let’s take a look.
According to the Wreaths Across America website, at the age of 12, Worcester won a trip to Washington, D.C. While there, he visited Arlington National Cemetery, which became an inspiration for the rest of his life. Fast forward to 1992, and his wreath company had a large surplus of Christmas wreaths. He then got the idea to place the wreaths on the graves of veterans at Arlington. With the help of a senator from Maine, plans were put into place to lay the wreaths in an older section of the national cemetery that also received few visitors. As news spread of the tribute, other companies helped with transporting the wreaths, volunteering to decorate the wreaths with bows, and holding special ceremonies. However, this tradition wasn’t well-known and quietly went on until 2005, when everything changed for the better.
Part of the timeless tradition Worcester created included a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In 2005, a picture was taken of the wreath-covered graves in the snow. Quickly, the image traveled through the internet and gained national attention. Offers for help with the tribute at Arlington and throughout cemeteries in the country began coming in. Yet, Worcester Wreaths couldn’t afford to donate wreaths to all the requests, so the company developed a plan to send seven wreaths to each of the 50 states. These wreaths symbolized all the branches in the military and the POWS and MIAs. A year later, civic organizations started wreath-laying ceremonies in over 150 locations throughout the country. In fact, the recognition gained the attention of the Patriot Guard Riders, a nonprofit organization which attends funerals of fallen heroes. The Patriot Guard Riders created an escort for the special wreaths from Maine to Arlington, establishing the annual “Veterans Honor Parade,” which now travels down the East Coast in early December and makes stops at schools, veterans’ homes, and monuments to teach the importance of honoring the fallen heroes.
Two years after the iconic image was taken, in 2007, the Worcester family, veterans, and other groups founded the Wreaths Across America nonprofit. Their mission is to support groups and individuals within the nation to continue the wreath-laying ceremonies and to “remember our fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve, and teach your children the value of freedom.” By the next year, over 300 locations in every state, Puerto Rico, and 24 overseas cemeteries participated in Wreaths Across America, prompting Congress to declare a “Wreaths Across America Day” in December.
Currently, the annual, nationally-held wreath-laying ceremonies are conducted on the second or third Saturday of December. There are many ways to participate in the event. First, you could sponsor a veteran’s wreath. Other avenues to assist include volunteering your time or donating to a local fundraising group or cemetery in your area. Finally, if you are able, attend the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and volunteer to place the wreaths. The event is free and open to the public. Visit the nonprofit’s website for more information on both opportunities—wreathsacrossamerica.org.
The holiday season is a special time to remember and celebrate those around us. Wreaths Across America is an excellent way to get involved and honor those who served our country. As stated on the organization’s website, “We understand we have Veterans Day in the fall and Memorial Day in the spring, but our service members sacrifice their time and safety every single day of the year to preserve our freedom…There is no better time to express our appreciation than during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.”