Wreaths Across America stops in Kittery
By Jesse Scardina
KITTERY, Maine — Each time Morrill Worcester rides through communities with his caravan of wreaths destined for Arlington National Cemetery, he’s humbled by the turnout and stories he hears.
“I’ve been in the wreath business for 44 years,” said Worcester, founder of the now-nationwide event, Wreaths Across America. “I never realized before this event happened and spread the power of a simple wreath. Just placing a wreath on someone’s grave, and what that means to so many, that’s why this continues to grow.”
On a chilly Monday afternoon, the convoy of thousands of wreaths, along with police officers, sheriffs and volunteers, stopped at the Kittery Trading Post for its final Maine destination before continuing its trip to the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. About 100 Seacoast residents braved the single-digit temperatures, waving American flags to welcome the line of semi-trucks, motorcycles and police cruisers.
The annual event —started in 1992 by Harrington, Maine-based Worcester Wreath Company — has spread across the country over the last decade, as former veterans, and the friends and families of those who served have joined the cause to commemorate veterans by placing a holiday wreath atop a veteran’s grave.
Worcester, along with his wife, Karen, were in attendance at the Kittery Trading Post on Monday, along with Maine first lady Ann LePage, Wayne Hanson, chairman of the Board for Wreaths Across America, and about 100 thankful residents braving the cold to hold American flags and clap for the barrage of trucks, cars and motorcycles that trekked throughout the state.
“It’s very moving seeing all of you out there waving those flags,” Hanson said.
Worcester said that for the first 14 years of placing wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., it was just a personal way to give back.
“It was just my family’s personal gift to the veterans,” Worcester said. “In 2006, I visited the Pentagon and a guy from there took a photo of all the wreaths in the snow and it blew up. We started with just a handful of volunteers. It means a lot to me. It’s really incredible.”
The event has grown to include more than 1,000 local fundraising groups across the country, representing more than 900 cemeteries and military memorials in all 50 states. In 2013, 540,000 wreaths were placed across the country, including 143,000 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Many of the people welcoming the convoy were taking time off work or otherwise sacrificing the warmth of indoors to honor the cause. After a brief ceremony inside the Trading Post, where several honorary wreaths were given, including one featuring all military flags on it to the Kittery Trading Post, the convoy continued its trek toward D.C.
“We’re here to thank the veterans and this is our way of doing it,” said Eliot resident Mikael Bush, who was dressed up in World War I uniform and is part of the Elite Living History Association. “They need to be remembered for their service.”