At this time of year there are festive decorations throughout the land — in homes, schools, businesses, shopping malls, and government buildings. But, this Saturday, Dec. 13, just 12 days before Christmas, there will be a different kind of decorating taking place marking a much different tribute.
Known as "Wreaths Across America," these decorations are for the tens of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice so that this nation can remain "the land of the free." Wreaths will be placed on the graves of fallen military veterans in cemeteries and at monuments from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.
More than 200 of those symbolic expressions of gratitude are expected to decorate graves in Alexandria'a National Cemetery, 1450 Wilkes St., during a noon hour ceremony. They will join the more than 10,000 wreaths to be placed at individual gravesites in Arlington National Cemetery.
"The mission of ‘Wreaths Across America’ is to Remember-Honor-and Teach. Remember the fallen. Honor those who serve. Teach our children the value of freedom," according to the project's founder. This will be the 17th year for this solemn holiday ceremony begun by Morrill Worcester, president, Worcester Wreath Company, Harrington, Maine.
Worcester originally donated wreaths for Arlington National Cemetery to show his appreciation and gratitude for the sacrifices of American military personnel. In 2006, he decided to expand his tribute to 250 state and national cemeteries and Veterans memorials nationwide.
To accomplish this, Worcester solicited the aid of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle and motor vehicle group composed primarily of military veterans and active duty personnel with over 65,000 members, to escort the wreaths from Maine to Arlington. The week-long journey, a 750-mile trek, begins in Harrington and travels most of the way on Route 1, arriving in the Washington area just prior to the wreath-laying ceremony.
The mileage is significant in that it represents one mile for every 1,000 of the approximately 750,000 men and women who have died as a result of armed conflict throughout this nation's history. Part of that contingent also brings wreath to the Alexandria National Cemetery, which pre-dates Arlington National Cemetery, going back to the Civil War.
Conducting the wreath-laying ceremony in Alexandria this year, as he did in 2007, is Patriot Guard Rider Patrick Gallagher. "We hope this will be a much bigger ceremony than last year," Gallagher said.
Participating in the ceremony, which is open to anyone wishing to attend, will be members of the various Armed Services and volunteer students from T.C. Williams High School. Following remarks by Gallagher and others, wreaths will be placed on individual’s graves throughout the cemetery, including the 128 unknown dead from the Civil War.
MORRILL AND KAREN WORCESTER began their personal veterans' tribute in 1992 with a trailer load of wreaths, decorated by volunteers, that were placed on graves in Arlington National Cemetery. It was their wish to bring children and veterans together — a way to bring past, present and future sacrifices of veterans and their families together.
From that effort by the Worcesters and their volunteers has grown this national tribute at one of the most family times of the year. It also serves as an educational vehicle to make the next generation aware of the cost of freedom.
Each year dozens of students make the annual trip to Arlington National Cemetery to participate in the wreath-laying event. It was just such a trip to Arlington National Cemetery years ago by Morrill Worcester, as a 12-year-old boy from Maine, that triggered his desire to create Wreaths Across America.
Involving children in the project has inspired works of art as well as essays and poems. The final lines of one of those poems, written by a participating student, identified only as Stephanie C., captures the essence of the project. "And so the sun goes down; Another child has learned the lesson; War is not glorious but the people are; Love for freedom goes beyond death."
In expressing his appreciation to all those that give of their time and talents to make this annual project possible, Worcester issued the following statement: "On behalf of everyone at Worcester Wreath, we wish to express our appreciation. It provides the inspiration for all of us to renew our commitment to honor the men and women of the armed forces who have served, and those currently serving our country.
"To each, and especially, those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we owe unwavering support and a profound debt of gratitude for preserving the way of life we all enjoy here in the United States of America."
Alexandria's National Cemetery is located six blocks west of Route 1 at the end of Wilkes Street. There is a direction sign at the intersection of South Washington and Gibbon streets. To learn more about this event visit <a href=http://www.wreaths-across-america.org>www.wreaths-across-america.org</a>.