Fallen Veterans honored in Houlton with wreath ceremony

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli, Special to The County
1 year ago

HOULTON, Maine – Despite winter storm warnings from the National Weather Service, about 50 people braved the elements Saturday to honor the area’s fallen heroes on Soldiers’ Hill at Evergreen Cemetery.

And as large flakes of snow blanketed the peaceful Wreaths Across America ceremony, fallen soldiers, veterans and those currently serving were remembered through song, silence, and the laying of nearly 700 live balsam wreaths on veterans’ graves.

“There are millions of Americans gathering today … we thank those who gave their lives so we could be free,” said Houlton High School Principal DeWayne Morse, an Air Force veteran. “Today we show a united front of gratitude and respect … as we remember the fallen, those serve and their families and teach the next generation the value of freedom.”

The Houlton event was one of 3,700 others also held on Saturday afternoon as part of a national initiative to lay wreaths on every veteran grave across the country. 

This was the second year for the local event, going from 150 sponsored wreaths last year to 675 this year. And plans are already underway to reach 1,000 wreaths next year, enough for all the veterans buried at Evergreen Cemetery, said Houlton High School Social Studies teacher Kristin Supa, who is the site coordinator for Wreaths Across America. 

The Houlton High School Senior Class registered as a fundraising group this year which means for every $15 wreath sponsored, the Senior Class received $5. 

“Wreaths Across America offers this opportunity,” said Supa. “The senior class will get over $3,000 for prom and their senior trip.”

The students met with Supa initially to plan their approach to increasing wreath sponsorship by local businesses and as part of their campaign, they had posters made with QR codes to make sponsoring a wreath easy with a direct link.  

The school’s Rotary Interact Group was also very helpful, said Supa, adding that more community involvement and having a group as the beneficiary led to this year’s success. 

During Saturday’s ceremony, high school freshman Sarah Howe sang the National Anthem and following Principal Morse’s keynote address, ceremonial wreaths were placed for each branch of the military and the space program, followed by a three-round volley salute and taps by members of the Chester L. Briggs Post 47 American Legion.

As the final gesture of respect, high school students, parents, families, veterans, and other volunteers carried the 675 wreaths to graves marked by a veteran designation and said each veteran’s name aloud as they placed the wreath on the headstone.

Wreaths Across America was started by Morrill Worcester, the owner of the Worcester Wreath Company, of Harrington, Maine. In 1992, Worcester and his wife Karen had surplus wreaths near the end of the holiday season, and so they made arrangements to have the wreaths placed on veteran graves in Arlington, a location Worcester never forgot after winning a trip to Washington D.C. as a 12-year-old paper boy for the Bangor Daily News. 

The Worcesters continued the annual wreath laying in Arlington and other cemeteries to honor veterans. But it wasn’t until a photo of the wreaths on headstones in the national cemetery garnered national attention in 2005 did it gain more support. And in 2007, Worcester founded Wreaths Across America. 

On Saturday, there were 3,702 participating locations across the country with more than two million volunteers placing more than 2.7 million wreaths on the headstones of fallen heroes, according to PR Newswire.

This year, Walmart donated the services of 16 tractor trailers to transport 100,000 veterans’ wreaths, starting in Columbia Falls, Maine, to participating ceremonies across the country. Locally, several businesses sponsored hundreds of wreaths, including Farm Credit East, Presque Isle, $1,500, Maine Agri-Women’s Group of Littleton, $200, J. McLaughlin Construction in Houlton, $270, to name a few. 

Wreath sponsorship for this year was cut-off in late November and the nearly 700 wreaths were delivered to Supa’s home on Dec. 4. 

To kick-off next year’s fundraiser, Wreaths Across America offers registered fundraising groups a match on any wreath sponsored between Dec. 17 and Jan. 15, 2023, meaning registered fundraising groups will receive $15 for each wreath sponsored during that time. 

“Next year we are pushing for more involvement and hitting our goal of wreaths for all veterans in the cemetery,” Supa said.

HOULTON, Maine — During a Wreaths Across America ceremony on Soldiers’ Hill at Evergreen Cemetery in Houlton on Saturday attendees honor veterans and those who are currently serving in the military with a moment of silence. 
 (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli)

HOULTON, Maine — Houlton High School Principal DeWayne Morse, a U.S. Air Force veteran, talks about America’s freedoms during a Wreaths Across America ceremony on Soldiers’ Hill at Evergreen Cemetery in Houlton on Saturday.  (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli)

HOULTON, Maine —  Wreaths Across America site coordinator Kristin Supa welcomes attendees during the Wreaths Across America ceremony on Soldiers’ Hill at Evergreen Cemetery in Houlton on Saturday.  (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli)