Every holiday season, a little known group called Wreaths Across America (WAA) gets busy. They decorate veteran’s graves with wreaths. This year, that day – called National Wreaths Across America Day – is December 18.
Their mission is to “Remember, Honor and Teach.”
WAA not only delivers wreaths themselves and decorates the graves at Arlington National Cemetery. They also coordinate wreath-laying ceremonies at more than 2,500 locations in all 50 states, at sea and abroad.
Every veteran has a story to tell. Sometimes we tell their stories for them.
Making sure graves are clean and well-tended means that people can read the names of those buried beneath. It encourages visitors to learn more and visit national cemeteries all over the country.
We all know someone who has served our country in the armed forces. Veterans have a special set of challenges when they come home. The rest of us must take it upon ourselves to support them in any way we can.
These are our friends, relatives, co-workers and neighbors after all.
Besides, during the holiday season, there is something beautiful about the display of wreaths over the headstones. Not only is it a striking visual scene, but it also shows that this country is remembering our fallen heroes.
Wreaths Across America isn’t doing this alone.
They work closely with partner organizations to find people who’d like to sponsor wreath-laying ceremonies. This spreads awareness about different veteran-centered organizations. It also promotes the many ways people can contribute their time, interest or dollars.
In addition, when people get involved with WAA, they help honor the importance of national cemeteries in general. After all, these resting places play an important role in our country’s history and future.
Through learning about veterans, we learn about their struggles. We spread awareness to do something about their need for affordable health care, denied benefits or mental health issues.
And we also discover ways to help.
For some people, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day are enough. For others, the holiday season is a nice time to continue honoring those who’ve served this country. And making sure veterans’ graves are decorated with wreaths brings even more meaning to the holiday season.
One more way to give back. To those who gave all.
On their way to cemeteries, convoys of wreath deliverers stop at schools and youth groups along the way. They teach children about veterans’ issues and discuss the importance of remembering or supporting them.
Morrill Worcester founded Wreaths Across America.
When he was 12 years old, Morrill worked as a paper boy for the Bangor Daily News in Maine. He won a trip to Washington D.C. and, while there, he visited Arlington National Cemetery.
It made quite an impression on the young boy.
He felt enormous gratitude for the veterans buried there. The magnitude of their sacrifice only grew in his mind as he got older. After building a successful wreath business, he wondered how to give back.
When his company had a surplus of wreaths near the end of 1992, Morrill saw an opportunity.
He used those extra wreaths to decorate veteran’s graves at Arlington. They were displayed across gravestones in an older section of the cemetery. An area that sees fewer visitors every year.
Other individuals and organizations got involved to help with transportation costs. Volunteers lined up to distribute both wreaths and bows.
After about ten years, in 2005, a stunning photo of the wreaths went viral.
Amid an outpouring of national attention came thousands of interested people. People who wanted to bring this project to their own communities.
A ceremony of sorts.
Wreaths Across America asks volunteers to say each veteran’s name out loud and thank them when laying the wreath down. They also pause for a moment to think about that person and their service.
This goes on at Arlington every year as well as a growing number of other national cemeteries and:
- Pearl Harbor.
- The Pentagon.
- Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Additional ceremonies are scheduled for our nation’s allies and the support of their veterans. These are held on international border-crossing bridges between Maine and New Brunswick; Michigan and Ontario; and Montana and the Alaskan/Canadian border.
That’s not all
Wreaths Across America also sponsors the Veterans Remembrance Tree Program. This specifically honors Gold Star families. It allows them to visit the balsam tips that are harvested each year for the wreaths.
Then they pick a tree.
WAA places a specially made dog-tag on the trunk of that chosen tree. There’s also a red marker to show that the tree is a living memorial for a soldier and his/her family.
Wreaths Across America distributes free thank-you cards. People can fill them out and send to veterans any time of the year. WAA also has a museum at its headquarters in Columbia Falls, Maine. It showcases items donated over the years. This includes photographs, awards, uniforms, helmets and other memorabilia.
If you’d like to participate in any WAA program, click here to learn more.