HARRINGTON, Maine — A half-foot of snow that fell Saturday night didn’t delay the convoy of tractor-trailers packed with wreaths from departing on the annual trip from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The Wreaths Across America convoy left Worcester Wreaths in Harrington on Sunday morning and headed to Bangor for a ceremony at the Bangor Auditorium before heading south.
“This is better than last year,” Maj. Wayne Merritt of the Maine Civil Air Patrol, project manager for Wreaths Across America, said of the weather. “Last year we were right in the middle of the storm when we left. The snow may slow down the convoy a little, but it didn’t slow down anything we were doing here.”
When Karen Worcester shouted, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” the roads were clear, and by the time the trucks rolled into Ellsworth, they were traveling under a bright sun and blue skies.
This is the 18th year Worcester Wreaths has traveled to Arlington with a load of wreaths. In 1992, they took 16,000 wreaths to decorate the graves at Arlington. This year, the convoy of 32 trucks will carry more than 150,000 wreaths to the cemetery and to other locations around the country. According to Morrill Worcester, wreaths will be delivered to more than 400 sites that will participate in ceremonies to coincide with the Arlington Cemetery ceremony on Dec. 12.
The U.S. Senate last week adopted a resolution marking Dec. 12 as Wreaths Across America Day.
“I started out just wanting to pay back to the people who gave us our freedom and gave me the freedom to do what I do with this business,” Morrill Worcester said Sunday. “It’s gratifying to see that so many people feel the same way I do.”
Wreaths Across America also has been working with the 9-11 Foundation, and this year the convoy will deliver wreaths for ceremonies at the three sites that were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001: New York City near ground zero, the Pentagon and the field in Shanksville, Pa.
The convoy is being accompanied in Maine by members of the Civil Air Patrol, the Patriot Guard Riders, the Maine State Police and officers from county sheriff’s departments and police departments along the convoy route. Also joining the convoy is a delegation from the Gold Star Mothers Association who will accompany the wreaths to Arlington.
Ruth Stonesifer, national president of the organization representing mothers who have lost a child in the military, said it was very meaningful for them to participate in the Wreaths Across America convoy.
“Sometimes, during moments of panic, we fear that our children will be forgotten,” Stonesifer said. “So to see a group of total strangers paying respects to their graves gives us hope that they have not been forgotten. This is so special for all of us.”
Although the convoy left Sunday, a wreath-laying ceremony on Saturday at the Ferry Point Bridge between Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, was the first in a series of events that will culminate Saturday. In addition to Arlington, wreaths are being shipped to ceremonies at more than 400 locations nationwide and another 25 overseas. On Saturday, about 2,500 wreaths will be placed on graves at veterans’ cemeteries in Augusta and Togus.
The first two of a planned 25 stops between Washington County and Arlington were held Sunday afternoon at the Bangor Civic Center and at the new Veterans’ Memorial Park at the Hermon Elementary School in Hermon.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud attended the Bangor ceremony. He said the arrival of the wreaths in the Washington, D.C., area has become a big event. More than 4,000 people turned out last year to greet the convoy and help lay wreaths on the graves in Arlington.
“I’m very proud that these wreaths are made in Maine,” he said before the ceremony began. “It shows that Mainers are very patriotic and don’t forget those who have served or those who are serving now.”
Karla Holland, 36, and her son, Kasey Holland, 13, both of Hermon, on Saturday placed a Worcester wreath on the marble memorial dedicated to all the town’s veterans, which was constructed this summer in front of the school on Billings Road.
Husband and father Sgt. Lawrence Holland of the Maine Army National Guard is serving with the U.S. Army 286th Supply Headquarters in Afghanistan.
“As cold as it is, it’s wonderful to see this many people out here,” Karla Holland said of the 50 or so residents and schoolchildren, who waited nearly two hours for the convoy. It arrived about 2:30 p.m., an hour behind schedule, after the ceremony in Bangor ran long.
The Holland family represented all Hermon families with relatives in the military who are deployed overseas.
“The town has worked really hard to get this memorial going,” she said. “I think it’s great, and we do appreciate everything the committee has done.”
Karla Holland, whose 18-year-old twin sons Kyle and Kevin Holland also took part in the event, said she liked the idea of having the memorial to veterans on school grounds.
“Kids need to understand why we are a free country,” she said. “They need to understand that freedom isn’t free — starting from the Revolution, up to Iraq and Afghanistan and on into the future.”
Sunday’s ceremony was the first official event at the Hermon memorial, Town Manager Clint Deschene said, and the first time flags had been raised on its flagpoles.
“If all goes well,” Karla Holland said of her husband’s tour, “he’ll be home in January.”
The convoy was also scheduled to make stops Sunday evening at Edward Little High School in Auburn and the AMVETS post on Washington Avenue in Portland.
For more information visit, www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.
Rich Hewitt reported from Harrington and Judy Harrison reported from Hermon. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.