On Tuesday, December 9, a resolution was passed in Congress making December 13, 2008 “Wreaths Across America Day.” The resolution was written, in part, as follows:
Whereas Wreaths Across America will continue this proud legacy on December 13, 2008: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the Senate--
(1) designates December 13, 2008, as `Wreaths Across America Day';
(2) honors Wreaths Across America, the Worcester Wreath Company, Morrill Worcester, the Patriot Guard Riders, and all other companies and individuals involved in this worthy legacy; and
(3) recognizes the sacrifices our veterans and service members and their families have made, and continue to make, for our great Nation.
In 1992, Morrill Worcester found himself with a surplus of 5,000 Christmas wreaths and the feeling they cannot go to waste. Morrill and his wife, Karen own Worcester Wreath Company, which supplies L.L.Bean with winter greenery. Remembering the trip he’d won as a 12-year-old newspaper boy that took him to Arlington National Cemetery, he made the decision to deliver the wreaths there. But he had a dilemma: A man with a truck filled with wreaths just couldn’t show up on a whim. A few phone calls later, 5,000 wreaths simply adorned with red ribbons were delivered to Arlington and placed on graves.
For the next 13 years, Morrill, his wife Karen and volunteers and friends put together these wreaths and delivered them to Arlington National Cemetery. There were no cameras, no news people, and no long escorts. Volunteers ranging from Boy Scouts to relatives of those buried at Arlington helped to place the wreaths two weekends before the Christmas holiday in what became known as the Arlington Wreath Project.
In 2006, someone in Patriot Guard Riders brought the Worcesters and their wreaths to the attention of other members. No longer would Morrill and Karen’s quiet devotion go unnoticed. An escort from Harrington, Maine to Washington was planned. That same year, Wreaths Across America became Morrill’s new goal after receiving numerous letters requesting how other communities might get involved and acquire wreaths for their veteran cemeteries. Patriot Guard jumped on board to provide escort for the trucks, place wreaths and offer support nationally and in their own local communities.
Morrill Worcester wasn’t looking for accolades and fanfare, but as more and more people discovered what he had been doing for sixteen years, he has been thrust into the spotlight. CBS Morning News has covered his endeavors as has many local TV stations and newspapers. He and Karen have been honored by school districts, community leaders and now the U.S. Senate.
He seemed to me a truly humble man, almost shy in his demeanor, but a friendly man who took the time to walk down our line of flags to shake our hands and thank us for coming out. When I approached him about talking briefly to me for this article, he started to speak, but then said that he doesn’t like talking about himself and directed me to his publicist/site director.
In 2008, Wreaths Across America will lay over 10,000 wreaths, brought to Arlington in two tractor trailers driven by volunteers and escorted by well over 100 vehicles, whether on two wheels or four and helped along the way by state and local police departments. Along the way, they will stop for local wreath ceremonies or receive honors from many schools that have embraced the Worcesters’ mission of Remember; Honor; and Teach.
In total, 25 trucks will deliver wreaths to over 300 veteran cemeteries, memorials and individual heroes’ gravesites across the country. What began as one man’s desire to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice has become an enormous grassroots showing of pride, gratitude and love across the land.
We picked up the escort at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. Weather would not be in our favor; a cold rain was relentless, and there was no end in sight to it. Amazingly, the trucks and their support vehicles arrived escorted by six bikes and a trike in addition to pickups adorned with now water-logged flags. We thought them crazy for attempting this ride. They probably thought we were wimps. Perhaps, but we were warm and mostly dry wimps.
Our PGR regional captain has always had a talent for involving law enforcement, maybe because he is a cop, and this mission was no exception. As we headed out, State Police closed the Turnpike to allow us access and along the entire route, sped past to head off anyone attempting to enter as we passed. Two Maine state troopers led the procession, followed by the trucks, their support vehicles and PGR participants. It was impossible to get a count, but to say there were in excess of 25 vehicles would probably be an understatement. Flashing lights disappeared over inclines and the trucks couldn’t be seen from our vantage point as we made our way south, but we knew we were part of something big, something important. The occasional interloper, hell-bent on getting through the thick traffic, made my blood boil. Do they not care that they have cut into an obvious convoy, or do flashing lights, police cars, and blocked entrance ramps not register anything in their heads? But I digress…
We stopped briefly to gather the Pennsylvania participants before heading to Edgewood elementary school in Bucks County, PA. We arrived over an hour late, the rain was pouring down but lined up along the front of the school were cheering kids and their parents. Inside the entrance, a large collage greeted us with the Wreaths Across America logo and photographs of long lost family heroes circling it. One photograph was of a gravestone of a Revolutionary War soldier, one child’s ancestor. A television set up next to the display played videos of children reading their essays about what Veteran’s Day meant to them. These kids got it; they fully understood the notion of honoring our heroes. I felt my eyes start to fill and turned away in awe.
The welcoming ceremony was sweet, emotional and heartfelt. The Worcester’s were honored and presented with a ceremonial check for over $4800 raised to sponsor more than 300 wreaths. Afterward, we were treated to a true Middle America dinner spread put together by the mothers of the school children. Salads, breads and a long row of Crockpot’s filled with all different kinds of chili along with all the fixings awaited us. A table of cookies, cakes and candy completed the feast. I half-jokingly asked for a container to fill and the women wondered aloud why they didn’t think to bring any. When everyone comes together for a wonderful event such as this, no one is a stranger.
We thanked them for their hospitality; they thanked us for what we were doing as Patriot Guard. Our stomachs full, our hearts pleased, we made our way back home.
Wreaths Across America’s motto is Remember; Honor; Teach and reaches out to schools to educate children on the importance of our nation’s soldiers’ sacrifices to keep us free. From deciding what to do with some leftover wreaths sixteen years ago to now providing over 100,000 of them, to the notice of the U.S. Congress is an amazing accomplishment. Morrill Worcester is a humble man, but he is a great one, make no mistake about that.
If you would like to participate in next year’s Wreaths Across America project, sponsor a wreath or maybe even have a ceremony in your town, you can visit their website at www.wreaths-across-america.org.
To find out if the Patriot Guard in your neck of the woods plans any escorts for this wonderful mission, visit their website at www.patriotguard.org.
By Louise Reeves