Remember, Honor, Teach: Wreaths Across America

On Saturday, December 10, 2011, the annual Wreaths Across America event occurred at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, 85,000 fresh evergreen wreaths were laid on the tombstones of our nation’s Veterans not just for decoration, but as a symbol of honor and a living memorial.

Thousands of people gathered to lend a helping hand in thanking these Veterans for fighting for our freedom. At the ceremony, Paul R. Lepage, governor of Maine, said “everyone gave some, but some gave all.” The men, women, and children that went to lay wreathes honored those who gave their lives to protect our country.

Special ceremonies were held in the Arlington National Cemetery for the burial site of President Kennedy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. Every day, a guard walks by the tomb to show respect and to protect those lives unknown. They walk 21 steps before stopping and waiting 21 seconds. Then they rotate their rifle and walk 21 steps back all in solitude. The ceremony displayed a changing of the guards and a wreath laying with a moment of silence to show appreciation.

At the age of twelve, Morrill Worcester one of the orginizers of “Wreaths Across America”, worked as a paper boy for the Bangor Daily News, were he won a trip to Washington, D.C. While he was there, he visited the Arlington National Cemetery, a moment that impacted his life in a way he would never forget.

In 1992, as an owner of the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, he found a way that he could give back to those veterans who had made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for our country. He donated the company’s leftover wreaths to the cemetery to be placed in the older sections, that were receiving fewer visitors every year.

A famous quote by Pierre Claeyssens states one of the biggest fears of veteran families: “To be killed in war is not the worst that can happen. To be lost is not the worst that can happen…to be forgotten is the worst.” Worcester wanted these fallen veterans to be remembered and honored for what they did.

Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit organization that takes place annually on the second Saturday of December. Individual sponsors, corporate donors, and volunteer truckers make this event happen every year. Before 2005, it was a small, quiet group, but when a picture of the stones donned with these wreathes spread across the Internet, many people called in to help. This year, ten tractor trailers packed with wreathes, accompanied by many thousands of people came to Arlington to show their respect.

The mission is to “remember fallen heroes, honor those who serve, and teach our children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families to preserve our freedoms.” The wreath ceremony is for remembrance. Other special programs were created to pay tribute to our veterans who serve or are retired.

The “Thanks a Million” campaign sends thank you cards to a million veterans all over the country every year. People who know a veteran can order a free card to be sent to thank the vetern for serving.

The “Million Memories Project” is a memory wall on the Wreaths Across America website that collects and tells the stories of millions of past veterans and their lives. Benjamin Disraeli once said “the legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.” Families of veterans can sign up for a free page about the life and position of that person.

Additionally, there’s a week of events the week before the second Saturday of December that honor and teach others about veterans. It’s called HART, which stands for Honoring Allies and Remembering Together. The week starts with a parade of the wreath trucks as they travel from Harrington, Maine to Arlington, Virgina. They stop along the way educating others about the value of freedom and give out programs to teach students, scouts, and youth groups the importance of respecting those veterans who fight. The Red Hat Brigade gives kids red hats on this journey to help them remember. Also during the week, there are State House ceremonies in all fifty states to lay wreaths.

Thanks to Worcester, many families can now rest knowing their loved ones will always be remembered for their service to this country, and our future generations can acknowledge the price of freedom.