Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, was a 12-year-old paperboy for the Bangor Daily News when he won a trip to Washington, D.C. His first trip to our nation’s capital was one he would never forget, and Arlington National Cemetery made an especially indelible impression on him.
In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season.
Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. He made arrangements 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. A local trucking company provided transportation to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, handtied bows.
The annual tribute went on quietly until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the Internet and the project received national attention – thousands of requests from all over the country from people wanting to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries.
This iconic image became viral in 2005, inspiring increased national interest in the annual tribute and prompting the formation of Wreaths Across America.
In 2006, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies were held at over 150 locations around the country. The Patriot Guard Riders volunteered as escort for the wreaths going to Arlington. This began the annual “Veterans Honor Parade” that travels the east coast in early December.
The annual trip to Arlington and the groups of volunteers eager to participate in Worcester’s simple wreath-laying event grew each year.
In 2007, the Worcester family formed Wreaths Across America, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, to continue and expand this effort and support other groups around the country who wanted to do the same. The mission of the group is simple:
Remember. Honor. Teach.
In 2008, over 300 locations held wreath-laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries. Over 100,000 wreaths were placed on veterans’ graves. Over 60,000 volunteers participated.
In 2014, Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond, including ceremonies at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites of the September 11 tragedies. This was accomplished with help from more than 2000 fundraising groups, corporate contributions and donations of trucking, shipping and thousands of helping hands.
The organization’s goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery was met in 2014 with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.
The wreath-laying is still held annually on the second or third Saturday of December. WAA’s annual pilgrimage from Harrington, Maine, to Arlington National Cemetery has become known as the world’s largest veterans’ parade, stopping at schools, monuments, veterans’ homes and communities all along the way to remind people how important it is to remember, honor and teach.
Please join us on for the nationwide wreath ceremony on Saturday, December 16, at the Valley of the Sun Cemetery, 10940 East Chandler Heights Road, Chandler. Wreath-laying ceremony begins at 8:00 a.m. A memorial service begins at 9:00 a.m. Lunch buffet for the volunteers and participants.
If you would like to sponsor a wreath and/or volunteer, please contact Michael Whitaker, President of the Exchange Club of Chandler, for more information: Telephone: 480-241-9448; email: [email protected]