Since the early 1990s, Morrill Worcester and his Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington have been honoring U.S. veterans by donating, decorating, delivering and laying wreaths on their graves. It began as a small gesture of thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and today has grown to include wreath-layings across the country and a National Wreaths Across America day.
Stories say that in 1992 the Worcester Wreath Co. found itself with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. As a 12-year-old, Worcester won a trip to Washington, D.C., where he made an impressionable visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Harking back to that visit of his youth, Worcester enlisted the help of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe to get those wreaths placed at Arlington Cemetery, in the older sections of the cemetery, "a section that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year."
It turned into an annual tribute, and did not become widely known until 2005, when a photo of the wreath-adorned headstones, covered in snow, circulated around the Internet.
As the humble project gained national attention, thousands of people and groups stepped up to help with the wreaths at Arlington, but also to bring the project to their national and state cemeteries. And others, according to Wreaths Across America, just wanted to share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring the nation's veterans.
There is more to the story, and it can be read here, but this Saturday, Dec. 5, the Wreaths Across America convoy will begin the week-long trek to Arlington, Va., in time for National Wreaths Across America Day Saturday, Dec. 12.
In 2014, Wreaths Across America had more than 160 volunteer trucking companies deliver more than 300 loads of wreaths.
On Sunday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 a.m., the convoy and accompanying veterans depart the Worcester Wreath Factory and head south along Route 1. By 11 a.m. The group is expected to be crossing the Penobscot Narrows Bridge en route to a lunch stop at Bank of America off Route 3 in Belfast. During that stop, there will also be a ceremony with wreath presentations.
Picking back up, the convoy is expected to arrive at Lincolnville Beach around 1:30 p.m., where four wreaths will be presented to Christmas by the Sea organizers.
According to Andy Young, one of the wreaths will be laid at the cannon by the beach, while the other three will honor members of the Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and Navy lost at sea. Those wreaths will be laid in the water during a ceremony at Frohock Bridge.
"All are welcome at the beach to greet the convoy," said Young. "Last year approximately 20 tractor trailer trucks with another 20 escort vehicles representing police from all over the state made up the convoy. The American Legion color guard will be participating in the wreath-laying, as well as veterans from each of the three service branches represented by the wreaths."
Participants are encouraged to bring flags and banners to welcome the convoy. Young said the Lincolnville Cemetery Committee will be supplying flags if people don't have their own to bring, and that local fire and police will also be participating in the stopover at Lincolnville Beach.
The convoy is expected to move on around 1:45 p.m., with its next Midcoast stop in Waldoboro for an hour-long ceremony at Medomak Valley High School.
The convoy's journey will be streamed live on the web, courtesy of sponsor Oakhurst Dairy, and community members all along the route, from north to south, are invited and encouraged to greet them as they pass by.
"I started Worcester Wreath Co. in 1971. That first year I sold 500 wreaths. Over the past 37 years with the help from my family, our business has grown to sales of over 500,000 wreaths.
I happen to think this incredible growth could only be accomplished in America because of the freedoms we all enjoy.
Of course, our freedoms did not come without a tremendous cost and sacrifice. Over the past 231 years, nearly 1,000,000 Americans, men and women, have given the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. Millions more gave years of their lives in the military services and were lucky enough to come home safely.
I know our wreaths placed on the veteran's graves each year is a very small gesture.
I only wish we could do more."
Morrill Worcester, founder
Wreaths Across America
Quoted in 2008 (courtesy Worcester Wreath Co. website)
Follow along on the map and watch the escort to Arlington streamed live on the web.
Full convoy schedule follows (subject to change):
Saturday, Dec. 5
5:30 a.m. – Machias River Inn
Sunrise – Quoddy Head State Park
9 a.m. – Washington County Community College
Noon – Bridge Ceremony in Calais
3 p.m. – Machias Veterans Home
6: p.m. – Dinner at Wreaths Across America Headquarters
Sunday, Dec. 6
6 a.m. – Breakfast at Narraguagus High School
7 a.m. – Escort Briefing
7:30 a.m. – Veterans Leave Worcester Wreath Factory
7:45 a.m. – Blessing of Wreaths
8:15 a.m. – Leave Narraguagus High School
9:45-10:30 a.m. – Mid Coast Mall Parking Lot
11 a.m. – Bucksport Bridge
Noon-1:15 p.m. – Bank of America in Belfast
1:30-1:45 p.m. – Lincolnville Beach
2:15-3:15 p.m. – Medomak High School
4:45-6:15 p.m. – Cheverus High School
6:45 p.m. – Elks Lodge in Portland
Monday, Dec. 7
6:15 a.m. – Briefing at hotel
6:30 a.m. – Leave Elks Lodge
7-8:50 a.m. – Westbrook Middle School
9:30-10:15 a.m. – Scarborough Veterans Home
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Kennebunk Town Green
11:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m. – Wells Middle School
1:30-2:30 p.m. – Kittery Trading Post
4-7:30 p.m. – Topsfield Fairgrounds Massachusetts
Tuesday, Dec. 8
6:30 a.m. – Briefing at hotel
7 a.m. – Leave Emerald Square
8 a.m. – Ponaganset Middle School
9-10:30 a.m. – Saint Bernard School
11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. – Old Saybrook
5 p.m. – St. Ann Club
Wednesday, Dec. 9
6:30 a.m. – Escort Briefing
7 a.m. – Leave Sam's Club
9-10:30 a.m. – Liberty Park
11 a.m.-1:45 p.m. – Vietnam Memorial Museum
4 p.m. – Petro Stop
Thursday, Dec. 10
7:30 a.m. – Escort Briefing
8 a.m. – Leave Petro Stop
9-11 a.m. – Philadelphia Charter School
Noon-2:30 p.m. – Valley Forge Military Academy
4:30 p.m. – American Legion
Friday, Dec. 11
6:30 a.m. – Escort Briefing
8:45 a.m. – Leave American Legion
9:30-10:30 a.m. – Naval Academy
TBD – Vietnam Wall and other memorials
TBD – Night Time Event
Saturday, Dec. 12 – National Wreaths Across America Day
6 a.m.– Breakfast served at Branchville Fire Station
7 a.m. – Escort Briefing
7:45 a.m. – Leave for Arlington National Cemetery
8:15 a.m. – Approximate arrival time at Arlington National Cemetery
10:30 a.m. – Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Columbarium