Wreaths Across America: A poignant holiday tradition

15 years ago
By U.S. Sen. Susan Collins
(R-Maine)

    It has become a poignant holiday tradition. For 18 years, Morrill and Karen Worcester, owners of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, have delivered beautiful, Maine-made balsam fir wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. They are meant to honor all of those who served and sacrificed for our freedom. But this annual wreath-laying is also a heartwarming experience for all of those who participate. 

    Earlier this month, a convoy of Mainers set out with truckloads of wreaths. They were escorted by Maine State Police, members of the Civil Air Patrol, volunteers, veterans, Gold Star Mothers and the Patriot Guard Riders. The group arrived at Arlington on Saturday, December 12th and was greeted by a stirring round of applause from several thousand people who had gathered in the cemetery, including several members of my staff who are from Maine.
    One by one, volunteers laid a wreath, each adorned with a bright red ribbon, on a grave site of one of our nation’s fallen service members and veterans. Most of the volunteers never knew these fallen military heroes. But kneeling in front of the simple, white crosses, there is an instant bond.
    “I volunteered because I am proud of all that these men and women have sacrificed for our country,” said Melissa Simones of Lewiston, who works in my Washington, D.C. office. “I want them and their families to know that they will never be forgotten.”
    When the Worcester family started this tradition in 1992, they delivered 5,000 wreaths that could not be sold before Christmas. This year, more than 150,000 wreaths will be placed in hundreds of locations, including our national cemetery, at veterans cemeteries in America and abroad, and donated to veterans. The event truly lives up to its name, “Wreaths Across America.”
    The sight of all those wreaths laid on that hallowed ground is truly inspiring.
    “For Mainers working and living in DC like me, this is a really wonderful event to be a part of each year,” says Liz Johnson, who is from China, Maine and also works in my office. “It’s a fitting way to honor those who have served our country, and it makes it all the more special that the wreaths we’re placing here came all the way from Maine. I met several fellow Mainers who made the trip down – some have been involved for years now. It’s a really amazing thing to see.”
    “This is the first year that I had the privilege to attend the wreath laying at Arlington, and I definitely plan to come again next year,” said Brandon Milton, who is from Windham and works in my Washington office. “It’s great to see so many people coming together to perform this simple yet powerful act of honoring our service members and their families for their service and sacrifice.”
    “Wreaths Across America” honors our fallen heroes, but it does even more. It tells the veterans still with us that we honor their service. It tells the families of the departed that we share their loss. It tells our men and women in uniform today that we are grateful for their courage, sacrifice, and devotion to duty.
    In recognition of the Worcester family’s hard work and generosity, the United States Senate unanimously passed a Resolution that I authored along with Senator Snowe designating December 12, 2009 as “Wreaths Across America Day.” This resolution honors all of those who make this tradition possible and recognizes the sacrifices our veterans, service members and their families have made, and continue to make, for our great nation.
    Morrill Worcester describes his commitment to Wreaths Across America this way: “I make it my business never to forget.” Thanks to him and Karen, to the dedicated employees of Worcester Wreath, the Patriot Guard Riders, and to the thousands of supporters throughout our nation, America will never forget.
    In this season of giving, the thoughts of all Americans turn to those who have given us the most precious gift of all, our freedom. All Mainers should be proud that an incredibly generous expression of America’s gratitude began right here in our state and it has become an inspiring holiday tradition.