Maine Wreaths Go to Arlington Cemetery
Wreath escort is underway: wreathsacrossamerica.org. The next ceremony will take place on December 10, 2011 at 12 Noon E.S.T!
Yankee Classic from November 2007
Come with me into the center of the major media event of this day, Thursday, December 14, 2006. It’s 7:30 in the morning, and we’re at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital.
The sun has not yet broken through the gray sky,and you can see the breath from the reporters and photographers huddling in clusters along the leafy drive.
All the major networks are here, including CNN and Fox, as well as newspapers from as near as D.C. and as far as France and Australia. Everyone is waiting for Morrill Worcester and his 5,200 handmade balsam wreaths from Maine.
Cars are lined up outside the cemetery as far as you can see, as if awaiting entry to a big game. Beside me, a photographer from the Associated Press packs up his gear. “This will be impossible,” he says. “I can’t work like this.” He leaves.
At 8:30 the sea of media and volunteers parts, and here comes the truck, “Wreaths Across America” emblazoned on its sides, stacked floor to ceiling with the greens for the gravestones of the military dead. And now here comes the white van, with red, white, and blue stripes, carrying Morrill Worcester, his wife, Karen, and their children.
Alongside is a motorcycle escort, the Patriot Guard Riders. They’ve ridden with the Worcesters from Harrington, Maine, 750 miles down U.S. Route 1, through small towns and cities. Morrill Worcester will call the last four days “the world’s longest veterans’ parade.”
He never asked for this. He never asked for the cameras or the reporters. But Morrill Worcester will end up doing 38 interviews this week — all morning standing patiently in front of one camera or another — a ruddy, solid man of 56 wearing blue jeans and a leather jacket, quiet and unassuming, telling over and over how he came to be here.
He was a boy of 12, but already full of the entrepreneurial spirit that today has made him owner of Worcester Wreath Company, the world’s largest wreath producer. He’d won a subscription-selling contest at the Bangor Daily News, and his reward was a trip to Washington, including a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. The stark beauty of the headstones never left him. Years later, late in the Christmas season of 1992, he found he had a surplus of 4,000 fresh wreaths. He remembered Arlington. A call here, a call there, red tape was cut, and Morrill Worcester and a few volunteers trucked the wreaths to the cemetery, leaning them against the stones. It took more than six hours.
Although he wasn’t a veteran, Worcester vowed that he would never forget the sacrifices of these men and women. “Every stone represents a life and a family and a story,” he said. He’d tell people that the average age of a fallen soldier here was 21 — the age at which he’d begun his wreath business — and that he’d lived a life they never could.
He came with wreaths the next year and the next and the next, never missing a December, always without fuss or fanfare. Then a snowfall and a photo changed everything. At the end of the wreath laying in 2005, an Air Force photographer took a picture — the green wreaths, the single red bows so brilliant against the stones, the snow like a whispered prayer. Someone saw the photo and wrote these words: “Rest easy, sleep well, my brothers. / Know the line has held, your job is done. / Rest easy, sleep well. / Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held. / Peace, peace, and farewell …” The author e-mailed it to friends and family. “Pass it on,” the e-mail said.
The photo and the poem flew from one computer to another, across the country. Morrill Worcester’s quiet task of never forgetting became an Internet sensation. Phone calls and e-mails poured into Worcester Wreath. Messages from parents telling of children who’d gone to war and never returned; messages from wives, from veterans — each of them saying, Thank you. Thank you for remembering.
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.