Wreaths Across America: Remember, Honor, Teach
"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." -Pierre Claeyssens (1909-2003).
The History of Wreaths Across America
Claeyssens might have spoken directly to Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreaths, Harrington Maine, when in 1992, finding himself with a surplus of wreaths, Worcester thought of a boyhood trip to Arlington Cemetery. With the help of Olympia Snowe, senator from Maine, Worcester decided to place the surplus wreaths in an older, almost unvisited, section of Arlington Cemetery to honor the veterans buried there. His idea immediately snowballed and with the help of VFW clubs and others, the idea became an annual event though little publicized.
In 2005, a photo of wreath-adorned veteranâ€™s grave markers in Arlington Cemetery hit the internet and the snowball turned into an avalanche. Thousands of requests came in either to volunteer or to ask for wreaths for peoples stateâ€™s national cemeteries. Worcester could not send wreaths to the thousands of veteranâ€™s graves throughout the country, though he did donate seven to each cemetery representing the military branches and POWs/MIAs.
In 2007, Wreaths Across America, a non-profit 501-c3 was formed by the Worcester family, veterans and others to continue the wreath laying effort to honor fallen veterans. The organizationâ€™s mission statement is simple: to Remember. Honor. Teach. December 13, 2008 was unanimously voted by the US Congress as â€œWreaths Across America Dayâ€.
Since 2007, the organization has grown to the point that in 2010, 220,000 memorial wreaths were placed at 545 locations in the United States and beyond. This effort has gained the support of organizations, corporations, trucking companies, and many thousands of volunteers.
Today, the Wreaths Across America program is active in educating young people about their freedoms and how to honor those who preserve those freedoms for them. The organization has also started a program called the â€œThanks a Millionâ€ campaign that distributes cards to people all over the country to give veterans a simple â€œthank youâ€ for their service. Wreaths Across American is active in various veterans events throughout the country.
The Role of Trucking in Wreaths Across America
Right from the start, trucking has played a major role in the Wreaths Across America program. In 1992, James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia of the wreaths taken to Arlington Cemetery. Today, hundreds of truck owners and trucking companies not only provide financial support, they provide transportation of the wreaths to veteranâ€™s events and cemetery ceremonies throughout America.
Rod and Sindy Bartlett, contractors leased on with Load One, did their first year of hauling wreaths for Wreaths Across America this year. Using their Sterling straight truck, the team hauled a special load of wreaths destined for the Pentagon and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington among other special placements.
Sindy said about the convoy from Harrington, Maine to Arlington Virginia, â€œIt was so awesome! The outpouring of support was phenomenal. Schools let the children out to wave as we went by. People lined the roads and stood on overpasses, fire and police departments brought out their equipment to escort us. One fire department used their ladder trucks to hang an American flag across the road for us to go under. We had the Patriot Guard escorting us and the convoy.â€
â€œSome of people who came out to see us pass by touched my heart. Many were veterans, but what affected me most were the Gold Star mothers, fathers and even grandparents who stood along the way holding their folded flags. One, Mary Alice, who lost her Delta Forces son in Iraq in 2005, rode with us in our truck part of the way.â€ Sindy continued. â€œThe First Lady of Maine, Ann LePage, accompanied the convoy and rode in various vehicles, even on a motorcycle along the way. Governor Paul R. LePage met her and the convoy at Arlington Cemetery to participate in the ceremony.â€
â€œPeople kept coming up and thanking Rod and I for hauling the wreaths; many of those were veterans. I kept telling them that they owed us no thanks, it was them due the honor and thanks,â€œ Sindy concluded. â€œIt isnâ€™t about us, it is about the veterans.â€
There are many ways to get involved in Wreaths Across America. The majority of the costs of the programs are supported by individual wreath sponsors, corporate donors and volunteer truckers. You can sponsor one or more wreaths and even choose whom it is for or where it should go.
Groups can get involved as a fundraising project. Your civic, nonprofit, school, or other group can help raise wreath sponsorships for Arlington or your local ceremony. If you choose, a portion of the funds can be returned to help your group.
You can help organize a wreath laying ceremony at your local cemetery or memorial in your town. Some folks are researching to find forgotten cemeteries where veterans might lay.
Volunteer to help lay wreaths at national cemeteries across the country. If you are a trucker, get your company to become a corporate donor or if you are an owner operator, volunteer your truck and your services to transport wreaths.
The â€œ Thanks a Million â€ campaign will provide you with free cards to hand out to active military or veterans to say THANK YOU!
Get involved and work within your school district to educate children about freedom and those who retain those freedoms using the Wreaths Across America educational materials.
All together 400,000 wreaths were donated and laid at 750 locations in 50 states, several locations in Iraq and at 24 other international cemeteries during the event held simultaneously Saturday, December 15th, 2012 at noon.
Brigadier Gen. Susan Davidson, during the ceremony at Indian Gap National Cemetery in Indiana, summed it up perfectly when she said, â€œThe wreaths are simple and silent gestures. They remind us what Wreaths Across America's mission is: To remember the fallen, honor those who have served and teach our children the value of freedom."