BAR HARBOR, Maine — Nearly 400 members of the Patriot Guard Riders are expected to rumble through Bar Harbor early Sunday to participate in a ceremony and escort for Wreaths Across America.
Wreaths Across America, which supplies holiday wreaths to decorate tombstones of veterans at Arlington National Cemetery and other cemeteries, will remove Christmas lights from a perpetually lit tree in Bar Harbor’s Agamont Park and transfer them to another tree in Columbia Falls, about a 90-minute drive north on U.S. 1.
The tree in Bar Harbor was intended to honor veterans who missed Christmas because of military service, particularly those who participated in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 in Europe during World War II. The town council approved a lease two years ago allowing the organization to keep the tree lit. However, in September the council voted 4-2 not to renew the lease and gave Wreaths Across America 30 days to remove them.
Some residents objected to the tree because an accompanying plaque referred to Christmas and they were not Christians, Town Council chair Ruth Eveland later acknowledged.
“I don’t believe a Christmas tree is a universal symbol,” Eveland said earlier.
The memorial tree was dedicated two years ago at the urging of Stanley Wojtusik of Philadelphia, a member of the Wreaths Across America board of directors and a veteran and POW of the Battle of the Bulge who will attend the Sunday morning ceremony.
The inscription on the plaque reads: “The Christmas They Never Had. Wreaths Across America dedicates this perpetually lit tree in honor of those men and women who in service to our Country, were separated from loved ones during the holiday season. Regardless of religious beliefs or creed their sacrifice must always be remembered. July 9, 2011.”
“The Christmas They Never Had” is a reference to the holiday that was missed by members of the military in 1944.
The Patriot Guard Riders attend funeral services for fallen veterans. The organization was formed in response to protests by Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, which staged anti-gay demonstrations at military funerals.
The motorcycle group will provide an escort to transport the lights to Columbia Falls, where they will be placed on another tree visible from U.S. 1 near the Jonesboro town line.
The ceremony at Agamont Park will be held at 8 a.m., and the group will depart at 8:30 a.m. for Columbia Falls.
Wreaths Across America will host families of fallen veterans at 10 a.m. at the organization’s headquarters in Columbia Falls for coffee and instructions for participating in an activity to tag trees for deceased loved ones.
The trees are located on land owned by Worcester Wreath Co., which supplies wreaths for Wreaths Across America; the business is headed by Morrill Worcester, and his wife, Karen, leads Wreaths Across America. In recent years the company has allowed a number of Gold Star families and veterans to hang a simple military “dog tag” on a tree on its land as a memorial to a deceased loved one.
Trees will be tagged at the company’s property beginning at 11 a.m., and a monument will be unveiled at the site, where the business also has constructed an outdoor amphitheater in recent weeks in order to host a concert Sunday.
Wreaths Across America will host a lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at its museum in Columbia Falls.
A concert will get underway at the amphitheater at 2:30 p.m. Gates open at 1 p.m. Food and beverage concessions will be available and local bands will perform.
The concert will culminate with a tribute by country artist Lee Greenwood, who will sing his signature song, “God Bless the U.S.A.,” just prior to the lighting of the new tree, scheduled for about 6 p.m. Fireworks will follow.
The concert is free for all veterans. Otherwise, admission is $15 for adults, $10 for students, and children 5 and under are free. Proceeds benefit Wreaths Across America.
Organizers expect a few thousand people to attend the concert event.
“The tree represents a period of time that is part of our history — and no amount of political correctness will ever erase the sacrifices that were made, and continue to be made, to protect our freedoms,” Karen Worcester said earlier in a statement issued by Wreaths Across America.
For information, contact Wreaths Across America at 877-385-9504 or firstname.lastname@example.org.