A Small Token of Appreciation
How a surplus of holiday wreaths turned into an enduring symbol of remembrance
In 1992, the owner of a wreath company in Maine had a surplus of decorations leftover toward the end of the holiday season.
Rather than let the 5,000 extra wreaths go to waste, Morrill Worcester tried to think of something he could do with them other than throw them away, something meaningful.
After contemplating a number of options, he recalled a childhood trip to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The seemingly endless rows of graves commemorating service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice, he thought, deserved a small token of appreciation.
I didn't want to throw them away. They were nice and fresh so I thought about Arlington, because of the impact it had on me as a boy." - Worcester
With help from his senator and a local trucking company, as well as American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, Worcester organized a wreath-laying ceremony that quietly developed into an annual event. But it wasn't until more than a decade later that this yearly act of kindness received nationwide attention.
In 2005, a photographer published a photo of snow-covered wreaths adorning several graves in the cemetery. Worcester began to receive messages and calls from people around the United States almost instantly. They thanked him for his yearly efforts and wondered how they could help.
"When we found out about it, we just felt compelled to come and help," said Beth Shea, a volunteer who participated in this year's commemoration. "It's a special time of year, and this is such a wonderful tribute to those who are buried here. It's incredible. There are thousands of people here and it shows that the spirit of America is truly present."
Wreaths Across America is now an annual tradition for many, a way to pay respect to the fallen at not only Arlington National Cemetery, but at more than 1,200 veterans cemeteries across the United States and around the world.