Honor through remembrance.
When Morrill Worcester of Harrington, Maine, made his first visit to the cemetery as a young boy of 12, the experience left a lasting impression. Today, as president of the Worcester Wreath Company the memory of that day guides him to spread the mission of "Remember the fallen; Honor those who serve; and Teach our children the value of freedom," around the country. Each year Worcester and his employees put together around 5,000 Balsam Fir Christmas wreaths to be placed on gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery for the holiday season. For 2006 the event was held December 14.
"In 1992 we over bought about 5,000 Christmas wreaths," said Worcester, "and I decided Arlington Cemetery was where they should go. I contacted Olympia Snow, our senator at the time, and she helped us arrange the wreath laying at Arlington. It was so appreciated that we thought we should continue with the project. It's been 15 years and we're still excited each year when the date gets closer.
"This year (2006) we've expanded by sending five wreaths, one for each branch of service, to every state and national veterans' cemetery across the country. What started as the 'Arlington Wreath Project' is now 'Wreaths Across America.' We coordinated with cemeteries across the county and were able to have a simultaneous wreath laying at noon to coincide with the wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington.
"Our goal is to expand the recognition of those who serve our country, both past, present and future, as well as their families who deserve our support. Without the sacrifices of our veterans, there would be no opportunity to enjoy the freedoms and the life we live today," said Worcester.
"This way no matter where people are in the country they will have the opportunity to participate in honoring veterans everywhere. For those who can't physically participate, they can also honor those who paid the ultimate price for freedom through a moment of silence," he added.
Moving the 5,000 wreaths each year from Maine to Virginia would appear to be a daunting task, especially during the busy holiday season, but all Worcester had to do was ask. Each year the wreaths are delivered to Virginia with help from the Blue Bird Ranch Trucking Company, headquartered in Jonesboro, Maine. "A friend of mine is in the trucking business and I asked if he could help that first year and he's been there every year to assist. He's never charged for his service and the wreaths are always there when he says they will be," said Worcester.
The coordination for an around the country simultaneous event is done with the help of Maj. Wayne Merritt and the Maine Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.
"I have been involved with this project since day one," said Merritt. "I actually work for Morrill and he knows I'm in the Civil Air Patrol. When he asked me to help with that first trip to Arlington, I didn't hesitate to say yes.
"Since the Civil Air Patrol is normally involved in a variety of events at the veterans' cemeteries the coordination for this year's event went very well. We work closely with the cemetery administrators as well. We also put together some educational material for the school children that assisted with the project as part of the "Teach" in our mission statement," added Merritt.
Along with the volunteers who travel from Maine each year, many others belong to various groups such as the Boy Scouts of America and veterans service organizations. Also, military members in the National Capital Region are on hand to help out.
"Anyone present at the cemetery during the event can participate and for younger people volunteering with the project they are asked to learn a little about the servicemember whose grave they visited as a way for them to truly understand the significance of the project," said Merritt.
"For someone who has never served in the military, he [Worcester] understands the sacrifices that servicemembers and their families have made and it is truly amazing to see that," said Merritt. "If I have an event to attend, he never hesitates to give me any time I may need to participate as a member of the Civil Air Patrol. I've known Morrill my whole life and he is a true patriot in every sense of the word."
Worcester's enthusiasm and his commitment to honor, remember and to teach others about the sacrifices of veterans and their families extends to everyone who meets him and becomes involved with the project.
"The first year we decided to do this, we had a few volunteers and it took about five to six hours of their off time to shape the wreaths and attach the bows. Today we have so many people helping out that it takes about an hour to prepare the roughly 5,000 wreaths," said Worcester.
Other volunteers help with the behind the scenes work of the project, such as creating a Web site for visitors and handling the many questions and requests the project has generated over the past 15 years.
"I've been working for the Worcester Company for about four or five years now and this whole thing is just an amazing and truly moving experience. Pictures don't do it justice enough, you have to see it to believe it," said Tobin Slaven, a project and contract manager with the company and media contact for the project. "The last year or two I've been working on the information side of the project and the amount of interest has grown to the point where we now have a Web site (more information on Wreaths Across America can be found at www.wreathsacrossamerica.com). It's just incredible to see someone who hasn't been there but makes it their business not to forget what those who've gone before us have sacrificed. It really brings the attention back to the veterans and their families."
Over the years many have questioned his actions and when Worcester explains why he does this event each year someone always walks away a little embarrassed.
"The idea behind this project comes down to the country we live in and the freedoms we have," said Worcester. Worcester Wreath Company is one of the largest mail order companies in the country and that wouldn't be so anywhere else. This is really about the people, the men and women who dedicate themselves to this country so we can all enjoy those freedoms and be able to build our own lives around those very same freedoms.
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|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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