Around this time of year, we’ve all become accustomed to going down to the basement, picking up that storage bin filled to the brim with miscellaneous decorations, and warming our houses with the beautiful feeling of Christmas. We spend hours of our time unpacking and organizing, making sure that everything is just right as the season rolls around. Despite how many lights, figures, or ornaments we put on the exterior of our houses, the decorating is never complete without that classic holiday ornament of pine branches, often adorned with simple red ribbons, pinecones, bulbs, and berries, and a symbol of comfort and thankfulness throughout the holiday season. That wreath on the front door truly makes a home feel warm and welcoming, especially during the dark, cold months of winter.
Morrill Worcester, an entrepreneur from Maine and the founder of Wreaths Across America, recognized that these simple, festive decorations could be used to benefit a greater cause. At age twelve, Worcester won a trip to Washington DC through his job as a local paperboy. During this trip, the young boy was incredibly taken by the sight of the Arlington National Cemetery, a cemetery in which approximately 400,000 American military personnel are buried and honored. This trip had left a lasting impact that carried with him throughout his career.
A few years later, Morrill started up a wreath company called ‘Worcester Wreaths,” which grew relatively quickly. In 1992, about twenty-one years after its start, Worcester found himself with a surplus of wreaths. Looking back on his experience as a boy, he decided to donate these extra wreaths to the Arlington Cemetery. He partnered with other companies, individuals, and organizations to have these wreaths placed in one of the older sections of the Cemetery as to honor the veterans whose graves are getting less and less visitors each year. This event quickly became tradition, and many sites from all around America began requesting wreaths, prompting the company to donate seven wreaths to each state: one for each branch of the service as well as POW/MIAs. However, this event still flew under the radar of the national media for several years.
In 2005, this changed, as a photo of the gravestones adorned with wreaths and traditional red ribbons circulated the internet. This photo instantly gained national attention, bringing the whole event into a new light. In 2007, the event had grown so much that the Worcester family, along with various other individuals and Veterans programs officially created the organization “Wreaths Across America.” This led to an official, unanimous Congressional vote in 2008 that declared December 13 “National Wreaths Across America Day,” after laying wreaths in about 300 different locations that year. In 2014, this number reached 1,000, with over 700,000 wreaths donated to different locations such as sites at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and even the sites of the September 11 tragedies.
Wreaths Across America has had an extensive impact on the tradition of remembrance and honor for Veterans around the holiday season. Every $0.86 of each donated dollar goes to the placement ceremonies and the wreaths. With each ceremony, the volunteers do their best to make sure that every Veteran is remembered, aiming to fulfil the mission statements of the organization as a whole; to remember, honor, and teach about the service of America’s veterans. Organizations such as Wreaths Across America strive to honor each story, much like we do at the National Veteran’s Memorial and Museum. Through organizations such as these, we can do our part to help show our support and respect for our nation’s Veterans and their families.