Time, it’s something none of us seem to have enough of. When you talk about free time, for many that’s just a dream. So, when decided to not only purchase wreaths for my relatives who are buried in military cemeteries, but to also volunteer to place them I hoped this was going to be time well spent. I could not have been happier.
For those who don’t know about the non-profit Wreaths across America (“WAA”), it is an organization started by Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine. And here is his story and how WAA began:
Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, was a 12-year-old paper boy 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. This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
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. With the aid of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made 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.
The organization’s mission is to,
REMEMBER our fallen U. S. Veterans
HONOR those who serve
TEACH children the value of freedom
The annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes. December 13, 2008, was unanimously voted by the US Congress as “Wreaths Across America Day.” For more information, please see their website.
I’ve known about them for several years and it was always, “One of the things I was going to do.” After seeing them on a morning news show this year, I asked myself, “What am I waiting for?” and went on the website and ordered two wreaths, one for my grandparents and one for my uncle. But I still didn’t click the volunteer button. A few days later, I went back and click the volunteer button. Once I registered, I was surprised to see that 188 people had already registered to lay wreaths at South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth, Florida.
Lake Worth is about 45 minutes north of me, so I left in plenty of time to get there to see the ceremony before the wreath laying began. Imagine my surprise when I got there and had to park almost a mile away on the side of the road from the gates to the cemetery. I was planning on parking at the cemetery. Silly me.
As I got to the main area, now late, there were hundreds of people already there. Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, a high school soccer team. And last but not least, motorcycle clubs. Easily there where are least 100 or more bikers. Most a little older than me, and many Vietnam veterans.
After the ceremony, the chaos of the wreath laying began. The wreaths where in boxes inside Walmart semitrucks. Once they started handing out the wreaths everyone was trying to grab one. Yes, they had enough for everyone, but everyone wanted to make sure they got one. To watch eight-year-old Cub Scouts and Brownies run from the truck to a grave, state the person’s name and say, “Thank you for your service.” then immediately run back to get another one was heartwarming.
Others that were there were family members and friends looking for a loved one’s grave. They had a map of the cemetery that was highlighted in yellow where their family member and or friend was. Some took pictures standing behind the headstone with the wreath placed. Yes, there were tears in my eyes.
As we walked further back into the rows of headstones, the question became amongst the crowd, “Do we place them on Jewish graves?” No one seemed to know, so I found someone with the organization and his answer was, “Don’t worry about it, after everyone leaves, we remove them from the Jewish graves. Typically, we only have enough for the Christian graves.” The organization calls it a wreath of honor, but due to the fact they do it near Christmas and use red ribbons and fern, symbols of Christmas, others don’t see it that way. With that, they decided to just remove them from all Jewish graves. The farther back we went fewer and fewer people were placing them on Jewish graves.
The area of the cemetery I was in were people who passed between 2008 to 2009. All either served in WWII or Korea. Fitting as my grandfather was in WWII and my uncle was in Korea. Not having a family member there, I found a veteran whose last name was Smith, my grandparents and uncle’s last name and said, “Patrick J. Smith, thank you for your service.” I think I placed about fifteen wreaths, and after I placed the last one, I decided my mission was accomplished. It was a cool day in South Florida, but the humidity was 98% and from where I was I had another mile walk ahead of me to get back to my car.
I don’t know what I was really expecting, it never crossed my mind that families and friends would be there looking for loved ones. What I do know is, it made my time well spent, and I’ll do it again next year.
Do you have an organization that is close to your heart that needs help in getting noticed, then let’s chat?