Maine Wreaths Go to Arlington Cemetery
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.
So many requests for memory wreaths that on this day, wreaths from Maine are being placed at more than 200 veterans’ cemeteries across the country. And right here at Arlington, 800 people are lined up, each waiting to receive a single wreath to place against a stone: the media’s photo opportunity of the day.
But let me take you away from the crowd. The smell of balsam covers all of us; our hands are sticky with sap from holding the wreaths. Here is Nancy Cox from Virginia. She has come to Arlington for the past four Decembers. On a quiet knoll, she places her wreath and says to the stone, “Thank you very much. ”
“I say the names aloud,” she says. “I say to myself, ‘When is the last time someone said this soldier’s name out loud?'”
Here is Gabriel Roy, who served in Korea. He’s standing alone with tears in his eyes. “My brothers are here,” he says. “I’ll be here one day soon.” He places his wreath beside a small headstone. “Put them by the small stones,” he says. “They were the nobodies.”
I speak with Theresa Whitehead, who came on one of three buses from North Carolina. “That man must get a lot back,” she says of Morrill Worcester, “because he gives so much. I think now we have to say thank you to him.”