PORTLAND, Maine — What started with a Maine wreath maker’s simple gesture of shipping excess wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery two decades ago continues to grow with wreaths being shipped to more than 800 locations to honor the military’s fallen men and women this holiday season.
A convoy of trucks departs Sunday from Worcester Wreath Co. in the eastern town of Harrington with balsam wreaths, 100,000 of which will be displayed on headstones in Arlington. All told, 406,000 wreaths will be shipped to locations across the country, and abroad.
The tradition all began when Morrill Worcester ended up with 5,000 extra wreaths that he couldn’t bring to market in 1992. With the help of Sen. Olympia Snowe, he had them delivered to Arlington.
“We did it once because we thought it would be nice. We did from then forward because we thought it was the right thing to do,” said his wife, Karen Worcester, who’s executive director of Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization created to oversee distribution of the wreaths.
The wreath tradition carried on in relative anonymity for more than a decade until photos of balsam wreaths with red bows in the snow-covered cemetery circulated online. Soon, hundreds of donors sought out Worcester, and community leaders sought out wreaths for their cemeteries.
Based in Columbia Falls, Wreaths Across America now has a $6 million budget funded through donations from groups and individuals and through corporate sponsorships, and truckers and carriers donate their services to help distribute the wreaths, Karen Worcester said.
Morrill Worcester is donating 30,000 wreaths to the effort this year. The rest are supplied by his company, accounting for roughly half of his business.
Snowe, R-Maine, said she’s honored to have helped get the program going in 1992, and she praised the Worcesters for their efforts to keep it going.
“Their noble proposal has evolved into a venerable and nationally renowned celebration of veterans, and it is their enduring commitment and unflagging leadership that is responsible the program’s resounding success,” she said.
The inspiration for shipping the wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery had its origins in Morrill Worcester’s trip to the cemetery when he was boy.
The cemetery, which is the final resting place for more than 400,000 active duty service members, veterans and their families and contains the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other memorials, left a lasting impression on the 12-year-old paper boy from eastern Maine.
“We’re fortunate because of what the veterans have done for us,” said Worcester, who never served in the military himself. “I don’t know where it’ll all end.”