Every year, families across the country have empty seats at their tables. Beds are no longer filled and stockings no longer have owners. These empty spots – they exist every day of the year, not just on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day. Lost heroes have given their lives, and it’s a reality that impacts Americans every day, not just national holidays. That fact is the foundation for Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that places wreaths on hero graves each December.
Their goal is to honor the fallen – whether lost in war or decades after their service – with a beautiful, thoughtful wreath, complete with a signature hand-tied red ribbon. Today, WAA places wreaths in more than 2,100 locations, mostly cemeteries, including at sea and abroad.
How they got started
Before WAA got its start as a national and notable nonprofit, there was a business owner in the Northeast, Morrill Worcester, who owned the Worcester Wreath Company. When Worcester was a 12, he won a trip to Washington, D.C. where he visited Arlington National Cemetery.
Fast forward to 1992, where he operated his business in Harrington, Maine. This year was notable, as the company was met with extra wreaths during the holiday season. Worcester remembered his trip to Arlington as a child, and arranged for the extra wreaths to be delivered to veteran graves. He worked with Maine Senator, Olympia Snowe, to have the wreaths placed in an older section of graves that received few visitors.
The good deed was met with more volunteers, including trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., whose owner, James Prout, transported the wreaths. Then, members from the local American Legion and VFW locations who tied and added red bows. Finally, volunteers put together a wreath-laying ceremony, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
This continued annually, until an image went viral in 2005. Thousands of volunteers stepped forward to help, with others asking to recreate the program at their own local cemetery. Their efforts were expanded and wreath laying ceremonies took place across the nation, sparking a holiday, National Wreaths Across America Day.
Creating a seasonal nonprofit
After attention continued to spread, Wreaths Across America was formed in 2007. The nonprofit was founded by Worcester and his family, veterans, and other volunteer groups. Their mission to: Remember. Honor. Teach. Has been celebrated every year since.
Volunteers can purchase wreaths online or over the phone, along with dedicating wreaths to a specific loved one. Pages of messages remember the fallen and loved ones through the purchase of a wreath.
Remembrance Tree Program
As Gold Star families visited the tree farms where future wreaths are grown, it was soon found that there was a sense of calming in the process. To help spread this comfort to more families, the Remembrance Tree Program was founded. Free for veteran families, members can visit the evergreen trees in Columbia Falls, Maine. Here they can choose a tree to dedicate a living memorial to their fallen soldier. Dog tags are printed with custom messages and placed on a tree trunk. Balsam tips are harvested every three years to make wreaths, while the trees remain standing.
Find more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 877-385-9504.
Visit the WAA Museum
Columbia Falls, Maine is also home to the Wreaths Across America Museum, which opened in 2001. The museum features awards, memorabilia, and photos honoring its fallen soldiers and their missions. Visitors also can take in a video that explains the organization’s history.
Volunteering with WAA
Volunteers who want to donate their time to having wreaths donated, or to laying wreaths on National Wreaths Across America Day, December 19, 2020, can learn more at https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ or by calling 877-385-9504.