Volunteers Place 16,000 Wreaths at Arlington
(December 16, 2009)
Volunteers prepare to lay wreaths on graves at Arlington
National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Dec. 12, 2009. About 6,000 volunteers
placed more than 16,000 wreaths in honor of the nation's fallen heroes. USO
photo by Bill Auth
||WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2009 -- The Arlington
Wreath Project, an unofficial national
tradition, prompted about 6,000 volunteers to
wake up extra early this morning to help place
16,000 wreaths on graves at Arlington National
"It's really nice that America still remembers
our troops," said Nikki Bunting, the widow of
Army Capt. Brian Bunting, who died in
Afghanistan in February 2009. She visited her
husband's grave with their children, 2-year-old
Connor and 5-week-old Cooper.
“It's a sad sight, but it's really beautiful. It
reminds us that people care,” she said.
Morrill Worcester, president of Maine-based
Worcester Wreath Company, started the tradition
in 1992, although the seeds for the idea had
been planted 30 years earlier. The cemetery's hallowed ground first impressed
Worcester in 1962, when the 12-year-old Bangor [Maine] Daily News paper boy had
won a paper-sponsored contest and a trip to Washington.
“It struck me and I just never forgot it,” Worcester
recently said about the cemetery. “It was just such a big
place and the stones are all nice and straight. I saw the
Tomb of the Unknown [Soldier] and the changing of the
Fast forward to 1992, when Worcester discovered his company
had 5,000 surplus wreaths near the end of the season. He
made arrangements to place the wreaths on graves at
Arlington National Cemetery.
“The first 13 or 14 years of the Arlington Wreath Project I
just did it because I wanted to do it and it was kind of a
private thing,” Worcester said. “We didn't want any
publicity or anything else. We just did it.”
For more than a decade, he sponsored the Arlington Wreath
Project, with the mission to “Remember, Honor, and Teach,”
and managed to keep it small and relatively anonymous.
That is until 2005 when an Air Force photographer happened
to capture an image of the annual honor. “Things just
totally changed,” Worcester said.
After the photo hit the Internet and made its way around the
world, the tradition grew exponentially. This year 151,000
wreaths were placed in more than 400 cemeteries across the
country by 60,000 volunteers as part of Wreaths Across
America Day. Individuals and companies sponsored all but
25,000 of the 151,000 wreaths, Worcester said.
“I love seeing the participation,” he said. “I'm very proud
of the fact that I started it, but it's certainly not me
Worcester may love seeing the huge numbers of volunteers,
but it presents interesting challenges for Wayne Hanson, who
volunteers through the Maine State Society of Washington,
D.C., to coordinate the Arlington Wreath Project. The
Vietnam veteran also sits on the board of Wreaths Across
“We started off with just a handful of people helping Mr.
Worcester put the wreaths down. It would take us the better
part of a good day,” Hanson said. “People would hear about
it and want to help, so we would end up with 2 or 300
volunteers as the years progressed.”
Though the mercury started out below 20 degrees and only
climbed to the low 40s this year, it didn't deter those
wanting to honor the nation's fallen heroes at the holidays.
A mother talks to her
daughters about the value of freedom after they
placed a wreath on a grave during Wreaths Across
America at Arlington National Cemetery, Dec. 12,
2009. This was the 18th year that the
Maine-based Worcester Wreath Company has donated
wreaths to honor our country's fallen
DoD photo by Sebastian Sciotti Jr.
"The community of surviving families and TAPS [Tragedy
Assistance Program for Survivors] are very grateful to
Wreaths Across America, the USO, and other organizations for
their support,” said Ami Neiberger-Miller, public affairs
officer for TAPS. Her brother, Army Spc. Christopher
Neiberger, was killed in action in Iraq in August 2007. “Our
families know that their loved ones are not forgotten. |
“Many families who bury their loved ones at Arlington
National Cemetery do not live nearby, and so it means a
great deal to them to know that America cares and is
honoring the resting place of their loved ones," she added.
Though Hanson asks for a moment of silence for those who
died in recent conflicts and are buried in Section 60,
wreaths are not typically placed on those graves. This year,
however, the USO asked to sponsor 1,000 wreaths specifically
for that section, which is set aside for U.S. military
personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 300
volunteers, including 125 military family members, helped
place the wreaths in less than an hour.
The organization's president noted that the gesture is meant
to highlight the sacrifices made by all servicemembers,
"This effort is not about just Arlington National Cemetery,"
said Sloan Gibson, president of the USO. "The USO hopes to
encourage Americans to recognize the service and sacrifice
of veterans who are interred at veterans cemeteries across
While the day concluded with 16,000 wreaths placed in under
two hours, it actually began yesterday at the Pentagon, when
Wreaths Across America expanded its mission again.
|About 6,000 volunteers
placed more than 16,000 wreaths on graves at
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.,
Dec. 12, 2009. The Maine-based Worcester Wreath
Company has been donating wreaths to honor
fallen servicemembers since 1992. DoD photo by
Sebastian Sciotti Jr.
“We're doing something, which is in addition to what we've
done in the past,” Worcester said in an earlier interview.
“We're placing a wreath for every victim of 9/11 for the
first time. |
“There's going to be a big decorated area at Battery Park in
Lower Manhattan, and there's going to be a wreath-laying
ceremony at the Pentagon and another one at the field in
Pennsylvania,” he added.
Those wreaths were being placed during ceremonies this
By Samantha L. Quigley|
American Forces Press Service
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