By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., Dec. 13, 2014 – Amid crisp air and the aroma of pine needles, thousands gathered to lay remembrance wreaths on veterans’ headstones here to mark National Wreaths Across America Day, and in doing so drew one of the annual event’s largest turnouts in its 23 year history.
“We’re grateful for the sacrifice, bravery, courage and tenacity of members of our armed forces who currently serve in harms way; we’re grateful for the freedoms that we have as Americans,” Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia, the senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told those gathered on a sun drenched but cold day in the shadow of the Pentagon.
How wreaths began
He said he’s particularly grateful to one couple, Morrill and Karen Worcester, who he said seek no fanfare as they continue to make a difference in society through Wreaths Across America, the non-profit organization they founded in 2007.
“Because of the great efforts of Morrill and Karen Worcester, we’re able to cover every eligible gravesite with a holiday wreath, symbolic because it’s a circle that never ends so their service still continues as well.”
A Maine businessman, Morrill Worcester donated 5,000 wreaths in 1992 and arranged for trucks to carry them during their pilgrimage from his home state to Arlington National Cemetery. In 2005, Air Force photographer Jim Varhegyi snapped the iconic photo of wreaths in snow, bringing WAA unprecedented attention and acclaim.
Later, Congress proclaimed Dec. 13th as “Wreaths Across America Day” and at this year’s event, Morill Worcester placed the two-millionth wreath laid nationwide to honor U.S. Army Pvt. William Christman, the first soldier to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The organization has since expanded to include more than 1,000 fundraising groups in all 50 states representing more than 900 cemeteries, military memorials and other sites. More than 80 volunteer trucking companies have stepped up to help deliver the wreaths.
Thanks from the Chairman
“Throughout our country’s history, the men and women of the U.S. forces have served with the utmost patriotism and allegiance,” Battaglia read to the Worcesters in a personal letter from Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The hundreds of thousands of wreaths that volunteers across America place at the gravesites of our veterans were shining testimonies that freedom is not free.”
Battaglia explained what the diverse and robust turnout means to the military and the nation.
“It means the world; we are so fortunate to have not just a great community but a great society that would come out here in droves to honor our veterans,” Battaglia said. ”
As for the new generation, Battaglia said the event’s 2014 theme “Remember, Honor, Teach” personifies that message.
“Our youth are learning some valuable lessons about how great our country really is and how we as an armed forces respect and honor both our wounded and our killed in action. When these kids are grown up, they too will be bringing their children and grandchildren our here as well it’s a tradition the Worcesters started, and it’s long-lasting.”
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDODNews)