ELLSWORTH FALLS, Maine — Six students in the Media Communications laboratory at the Hancock County Technical Center are busy packing up their cameras, sound equipment and laptop video editing tools to join the annual Wreaths Across America caravan to Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
Based in the Washington County community of Columbia Falls, Wreaths Across America each holiday season organizes an effort to honor fallen veterans at Arlington by placing simply decorated Christmas wreaths on veterans’ graves. The nonprofit also coordinates similar ceremonies at hundreds of other veterans’ cemeteries. This year wreath events are planned at 800 locations in the United States and 30 others overseas, with organizers buying most of the more than 335,000 required wreaths through the Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington.
Established in 1992 by Worcester Wreath Co. owner Morrill Worcester, the program marked 5,000 veterans’ graves in its first year. This year it’s expected to lay its one-millionth remembrance wreath. Last year 90,000 wreaths were placed on Arlington Cemetery graves in just over an hour by 15,000 volunteers. The group’s goal is to place wreaths on 140,000 graves there.
The Media Communications students and instructor Ben Speed are making the trip at the expense of Wreaths Across America. They will link up with the caravan on Dec. 9 and will interact en route with those making the trek, including members of Gold Star families that have lost sons or daughters to military action.
“This is a first for all of us,” Speed said Friday. “We have an idea what to expect, but at the same time don’t know what to expect. We’ve done some work for nonprofits in controlled settings, but never field work like this. We will be covering the Dec. 15 ceremony at Arlington, but will also be capturing the small stories.
“I hope that that [students] learn how to be a media producers,” Speed said. “Not only is this about working quickly, but students will also learn how to be flexible, how to think on their feet and be adaptable to the situation. I also hope they get a sense of appreciation for veterans, veterans’ families and for our country by visiting the war memorials in Washington and at Arlington.”
The stories the students gather will be posted continuously on the Internet in various forms throughout their weeklong project. Before leaving for Washington, D.C., the students will be meeting at noon Dec. 5 with Ellsworth Elementary School students in the third, fifth and seventh grades to discuss their trip and will meet again with the same students on Dec. 19 for a multimedia recounting of their experiences.
Vaughn Hitchcock, 18, a senior at Ellsworth High School, said Friday he expects that visiting the national capital’s array of war memorials will have special meaning to him. Hitchcock has enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and after graduation heads to boot camp at Parris Island on July 29, 2013.
“It will be interesting to be traveling with Gold Star families on this trip,” Hitchcock said Friday. “The biggest thing I’m hoping to learn is how to shoot and edit a good-quality video in a short amount of time.”
Also making the trip is Rosie Conary, 18, an Ellsworth High School student from Surry who said Friday she’s eager to learn more about the role of the military in American history.
“I hope to learn more about our country and what people have done to protect our right of freedom for the country,” she said. “I also want to learn more about myself.”
Each day during their trip students will be posting interviews, daily recaps and helmet-camera video clips they’ve produced on the YouTube channel “Media Island” at https://www.youtube.com/user/HCTCMediaIsland.
Students will also be posting photographs on the Flickr page “Media Island” at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mediaisland.
Posts will also be available on the program’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/HCTC-Media-Communications/162794347066088.