What began with a young boy’s trip to the nation’s capital and Arlington National Cemetery, ended with the creation of one of the largest nonprofit organizations for veterans in the United States. This young man, Muriel of Worcester, grew up to become the founder of Wreaths Across America, which has laid more than 700,000 wreaths at veterans’ cemeteries across the country.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 23 million veterans worldwide, 19 million in the United States and more than 1.5 million in Florida. There are 155 national cemeteries across the United States, nine of which are in Florida. Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell One. In addition, there are 2,800 “participating sites,” according to Trish Gardner, District 2 and wreath fundraising coordinator across America.
The Wreaths Across American program began when the Worcester Wreath Company, based in Harrington, Maine, had a surplus of wreaths. Worcester remembered his childhood visit to Arlington National Cemetery and how he was an inspiration. As explained on the Wreaths Across American website, his goals are to “remember fallen American veterans. Honor those who serve. Teach your children the value of freedom.” Wooster believes wreaths will enable people to honor military personnel and their families.
The wreaths themselves have sentimental value. Greenery represents eternal life. The red bow represents a great sacrifice and the circular shape represents eternity. When wreaths are laid on each veteran’s plot, the volunteer announces the soldier’s name and then says thank you.
With the support of Maine’s then US senator Olympia Snow, plans were made to hand out surplus wreaths and place them in one of the old sections of Arlington National Cemetery. Worcester, his company, and volunteers continued to donate wreaths over the next fifteen years. In 2005, a photo of wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery was posted on social media and went viral.
In 2007, Wreaths Across America became a non-profit organization. In 2008, the U.S. Congress unanimously voted for a day in December as National Wreaths Across America. The date this year is December 18.
Each year, thousands of wreaths are prepared for Worcester Wreath veterans. Next, refrigerated delivery trucks transport the wreaths to Arlington and other national cemeteries. This annual pilgrimage is the largest procession for veterans in the world, stopping at schools, monuments, veterans’ homes, and communities along the way to remind people of remembrance, honor, and education.
The logistics required to make all of this happen is extensive and includes volunteer time. Locally, Sunstate Carriers of Tavares are a qualified volunteer trucking wreaths across America. Owners Josh and Kyle Vollmer, upon introducing employee Katie Margrove to wreaths across America, are now ardent supporters. This year will be the company’s second year that the company volunteers a refrigerated semi-truck and driver to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Maine. The truck will return with thousands of wreaths dedicated to Florida National Cemetery.
Across America wreath coordinators Randy Lauer and Cindy Bentley Roberts will handle the wreath laying operations at Bushnell Cemetery. With a goal of 50,000 wreaths, organization is key.
For the success of wreaths across America, wreath care is vital. Easy to sponsor or volunteer to lay a wreath. The last day to take care of a wreath is November 30. Visit www.wreathsacrossamerica.org or call 877-385-9504.
National Wreath Day across America is December 18th. The nationwide opening ceremony will begin at 10:45 a.m., with a moment of silence in honor of the veterans at noon. After that, wreaths will be laid with honor.