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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona Wreaths Across America

December 14, 2019

REMEMBER our Fallen U.S. Veterans . . . HONOR those who Serve. . . TEACH our children the value of Freedom

"One man's annual tribute to our veterans inspired a legion of volunteers and gave rise to the Wreaths Across America of today."

The Story:

" Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, was a 12 year old paper boy for the Bangor Daily News when he won a trip to Washington D.C. His first trip to our nation’s capital was one he would never forget, and Arlington National Cemetery made an especially indelible impression on him. This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s veterans. With the aid of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington in one of the older sections of the cemetery that had been receiving fewer visitors with each passing year.

As plans were underway, a number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The annual tribute went on quietly for several years, until 2005, when a photo of the stones at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, circulated around the internet. Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with Arlington, to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes.

Unable to donate thousands of wreaths to each state, Worcester began sending seven wreaths to every state, one for each branch of the military, and for POW/MIAs. In 2006, with the help of the Civil Air Patrol and other civic organizations, simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies were held at over 150 locations around the country. The Patriot Guard Riders volunteered as escort for the wreaths going to Arlington. This began the annual “Veterans Honor Parade” that travels the east coast in early December.

The annual trip to Arlington and the groups of volunteers eager to participate in Worcester’s simple wreath-laying event grew each year until it became clear the desire to remember and honor our country’s fallen heroes was bigger than Arlington, and bigger than this one company.

In 2007, the Worcester family, along with veterans, and other groups and individuals who had helped with their annual veterans wreath ceremony in Arlington, formed Wreaths Across America, a non-profit 501-(c)(3) organization, to continue and expand this effort, and support other groups around the country who wanted to do the same. The mission of the group is simple:

Remember. Honor. Teach.

In 2008, over 300 locations held wreath-laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries. Over 100,000 wreaths were placed on veterans’ graves. Over 60,000 volunteers participated. That year, December 13, 2008 was unanimously voted by the US Congress as “Wreaths Across America Day”.

In 2014, Wreaths Across America and its national network of volunteers laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond, including ceremonies at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites of the September 11 tragedies. This was accomplished with help from 2,047 fundraising groups, corporate contributions, and donations of trucking, shipping, and thousands of helping hands. The organization's goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery was met in 2014 with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.

The wreath-laying is still held annually, on the second or third Saturday of December. WAA's annual pilgrimage from Harrington, Maine to Arlington National Cemetery has become known as the world’s largest veterans’ parade, stopping at schools, monuments, veterans’ homes and communities all along the way to remind people how important it is to remember, honor and teach.

Wreaths Across America also conducts several programs to honor our veterans, including the popular “Thanks a Million” campaign which distributes cards to people all over the country to give veterans a simple “thank you” for their service. WAA participates in veterans’ events throughout the year, and has a veteran liaison on staff to work with local veterans organizations.

WAA is committed to teaching younger generations about the value of their freedoms, and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms. The organization offers learning tools, interactive media projects, and opportunities for youth groups to participate in the events. They also work to create opportunities to connect “the Greatest Generation” with the “Generation of Hope”, passing on inspirational stories from World War II veterans to the leaders of the future.

Wreaths Across America would not be successful without the help of volunteers, active organizations and the generosity of the trucking industry, which offer invaluable support to WAA's mission to remember the men and women who served our country, honor our military and their families, and teach our children about our freedom and those who protect it."

The Wreaths Across America event at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona grows larger every year.

The audience was surrounded by flags.

Young and old came to honor our veterans.

This year, two trucks delivered the 8,864 wreaths. There are 65,000 graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.


Knight Transportation

The mistress of ceremony.

We were led in prayer.

The Colors were presented.

Later, the Colors were retired.

We all stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner

The keynote speaker was John F. Scott II, Deputy Director, of the Arizona Department of Veteran Services.

John F. Scott II is the third generation of his family to serve in the U.S. military. His tour of duty was with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1999 to 2003 where he served as an M-198 Howitzer Section Chief, obtaining the rank of Sergeant.  In addition to his duties, John was also the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Non-Commissioned Officer, and Weapons Instructor for his Marine Corps unit.

In 2012, John moved to Phoenix to serve as the Executive Director for U.S.VETS-Phoenix.  He wrote several federal grant applications that were awarded, such as Supportive Services for Veteran Families, Grant and Per Diem, and Department of Labor workforce grants to increase the resources for homeless veterans in Maricopa County. Under John’s leadership, U.S.VETS-Phoenix grew from two to five locations, increasing the number of veterans served annually from 400 to 1500.  He was also a Commissioner for the City of Phoenix and the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services.

Musical selections were sung.

I do not know the name of the group whom sang. They asked for volunteers from the audience as the size of the group was small. The songs brought tears to many eyes.

Wreaths representing all branches of the military and one for POW's were placed on display at the main pavilion.

The Scottish American Military Society presented the Missing Man Table. It is also known as a fallen comrade table. It is quite a moving ceremony.

She would read an explanation and then a bell was rung. The audience responded: "Remember!"

Members walked in carrying a yellow rose. Each man then stood behind an empty plate.

The missing man table consists of the following elements:

The missing man table may be set for six places representing each of the five armed services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard), with the sixth symbolizing the civilians who died during armed conflict and/or POW's.

A white tablecloth to symbolize the pure intentions of the service members who responded to the country's call to arms.

A single rose in the vase symbolizing the blood that service members have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of the United States of America. This rose also represents the family and friends who keep the faith while awaiting the return of the missing service members.

The red ribbon represents a love of country that inspired the service members to serve the country.

A slice of lemon on the bread plate that represents the bitter fate of the missing.

Salt sprinkled on the bread plate that symbolizes the tears shed by waiting families.

An inverted glass to represent fact that the missing and fallen cannot partake.

A lit candle symbolizes a light of hope that lives in hearts to illuminate the missing's way home.

An empty chair to represent the absence of the missing and fallen.

Jeffrey Senour presented an original song, "We The People". The audience was invited to sing along.

"Three simple words, We The People, the words our founding Fathers started the most amazing document written by Man, our United States Constitution. We all come from somewhere and yet as we come to America we are a country of many but from many we become one. One Nation together to help the world be a better place. There is no other place like America, if you don't think so try traveling to other countries and see. When we wrote this song it is about We The People, "E Pluribus Unum"- From many we become one. Thanks to our Veterans who serve and protect and God Bless America and we so love to sing this song we wrote to our audiences."

A woman spoke of her young son's sacrifice for his country.

The ceremony ended with a gun salute and the playing of taps.

Instructions were given on the placement of the wreaths on graves. Boxes of wreaths were scattered throughout the cemetery.

We placed a wreath on the grave of Randy Plum, a friend.

The 18 inch wreath is made of real evergreens.

We also placed a wreath for another friend, Dean Schwanz. I worked at Judson School with his wife, Lisa.

Consider joining an event for the National Wreaths Across America Day on December 19, 2020. For more information, check out the website at .

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