By now, the story is familiar.
In 1992, Morrill Worcester, owner of the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, brought his excess wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery and placed them on Veterans’ graves. Although cemetery officials didn’t quite know what to make of it, they finally admitted that the wreaths looked really good against the headstones. For the next several years, Worcester, along with friends and employees—and no fanfare or publicity—made the trip to Arlington each December to honor Veterans with his wreaths. It was his personal tribute to the Veterans who sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms.
In 2005, a photo of the wreaths against the headstones in the snow at Arlington National Cemetery went viral online, and suddenly there was a demand for wreaths to be placed at other Veterans cemeteries around the country. Morrill, with his wife Karen, founded Wreaths Across America in 2007, with its mission to “Remember, Honor, Teach.”
In 2005, a photo of the wreaths against the headstones in the snow at Arlington National Cemetery went viral online, and suddenly there was a demand for wreaths to be placed at other Veterans cemeteries around the country.
Last year, the organization donated wreaths to 815 participating locations, including all 131 VA national cemeteries. Volunteers placed 406,000 wreaths, including 105,000 at Arlington National Cemetery; Last year also marked the one-millionth wreath placed since 1992.
As executive director, Karen is the “boots on the ground” for Wreaths Across America. She says that with as vast an effort as the program has become, it’s still important for people to focus on the individual stories of each Veteran. She spends time with Gold Star Wives and Mothers who have lost a loved one in the military.
Workers at the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, assemble Veterans’ wreaths Nov. 9, 2013.
Morrill, who still helms the Worcester Wreath Company, says he is driven by the responsibility to fulfill the mission of Wreaths Across America.
“It’s not enough to remember, if you don’t teach,” he said. “If we don’t teach the new generations where their freedoms came from, we could lose that history and those freedoms. Laying a wreath is a teaching moment and a good opportunity to pass on that history.”
Around the nation, national and state Veterans cemeteries will be hosting Wreaths Across America ceremonies. Most of the events take place Saturday, Dec. 14. For information on events in your area, visit www.cem.va.gov or the Wreaths Across America website.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter for coverage of the Arlington National Cemetery event.
Chris Erbe is a public affairs specialist with the National Cemetery Administration. He is a 26-year Veteran of the U.S. Navy where he served as a musician and public affairs specialist.