One man’s annual tribute to our veterans inspired a legion of volunteers who gave rise to the Wreaths Across America of today.
By Joe Fitzgerald, Post 3063 Color/Honor Guard Captain
Merrill Worcester owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington Maine was a 12 year old paper boy for the Bangor Daily News, when he won a trip to Washington, D.C and to Arlington National Cemetery, which left an indelible impression on him that followed him throughout his life and successful business career.
In 1992 his wreath company found that they had a surplus of wreaths left over from the holidays. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington he realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. With the help from Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for his wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.
As plans were under way, a number of other organizations stepped up to help, including a trucking company as well as local volunteers, and the American Legion and VFW posts who helped with decorating and laying the wreaths that included a special ceremony and wreath placed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The annual event went on quietly for several years until 2005 when a photo of the stones at Arlington adorned with the 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 own National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Merrill for honoring our nation’s heroes.
It soon became obvious that the interest in honoring our fallen veterans was bigger than Arlington and bigger than this one company.
In 2007, the Worcester family along with veterans and other groups who had been helping with this annual ceremony — formed Wreaths Across America — a non profit organization formed to continue expanding this effort.
Their mission: REMEMBER…. our fallen U.S.veterans,
HONOR……… those who serve, TEACH……….. our children the value of freedom.
In 2008, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted Dec. 13 as Wreaths Across America day with the actual ceremony to be conducted each year on either the 2nd or 3rd Saturday in December. The number of participating locations had grown to over 300 involving hundreds of volunteers laying more than 105,000 wreaths!
Today, there are now more than 2,100 WAA ceremonies conducted across America and Puerto Rico, at sea and abroad assisted by various firms, civic organizations, and thousands of volunteers who lay several hundred thousand Wreaths.
Note: Dec 19, 2020, there will be more than 230,000 remembrance wreaths laid at Arlington National Cemetery alone!
BALLARD EAGELSON Post 3063 and the WAA
December 2015, several members our post joined with members of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) to conduct the Wreaths Across America ceremony at Lake View Cemetery in the Capital Hill area of Seattle.
This ceremony occurs at the base of the cemetery’s U.S. Flag pole situated on a knoll where 7 stands are mounted in a semi-circle to hold a special WAA remembrance wreath for each of the 5 branches of the U.S. Military, the Merchant Marines, and for all MIA/POW. This ceremony begins at 1200 noon at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. with all 1600 locations around the world simultaneously conducting the same ceremony at the same time.
December 2016 Post 3063 formed an Honor Guard Rifle team. This was the first year we conducted a three gun rifle salute as part of the ceremony at Lake View cemetery.
December 2017 – The Honor Guard was expanded to include a Color Guard as well, and a bugler to play taps at the ceremonies conclusion. Also added to the WAA ceremony is a two person Honor Guard salute as each Wreath is brought forward and posted on its respective stand.
The Ballard Eagleson Post 3063 Color/Honor Guard conducts various memorial and flag ceremonies throughout the year. With each new year comes additional requests for our participation and as such we are in constant need of additional members to join us and be a part of this rewarding experience. Anyone interested in becoming a member of this team can contact either me, or our Post Quartermaster Harold Rodenberger.