USA — Arlington Wreaths Event Continues Holiday Tradition

WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2010 — For near­ly 20 years, a group of ded­i­cat­ed vol­un­teers and spon­sors have ensured that ser­vice­mem­bers and oth­er promi­nent Amer­i­cans at rest at Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery are not for­got­ten dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son.
Andrea Rod­way will be among the more than 7,000 vol­un­teers who will gath­er at Arling­ton tomor­row to place wreaths on more than 24,000 gravesites in sec­tions 28, 38, 43 and 60.

Ser­vice­mem­bers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried in Sec­tion 60. About 9,000 fall­en Iraq and Afghanistan war vet­er­ans are buried in Arling­ton. Rod­way, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., res­i­dent, par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Arling­ton event for the first time last year.

“It means a lot for me to be able to take part in some­thing like this,” she said. “It’s some­thing that I can do to sup­port the troops and their fam­i­lies, and it’s a spe­cial time of year.”

Oth­er wreath place­ments at Arling­ton tomor­row will be made at the USS Maine Memo­r­i­al, the Kennedy gravesites and the grave of Maine sen­a­tor and sec­re­tary of state Edmund Muskie. The final wreath place­ment will be at noon at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Mor­rill Worces­ter, pres­i­dent of the Maine-based Worces­ter Wreath Com­pa­ny, start­ed the wreath-lay­ing tra­di­tion at Arling­ton in 1992. Near the end of the Christ­mas hol­i­day sea­son that year, Worch­ester dis­cov­ered that his com­pa­ny had 5,000 sur­plus wreaths, said Wayne Han­son, who coor­di­nates the hol­i­day wreath project at Arling­ton. Worces­ter decid­ed the sur­plus wreaths should be ded­i­cat­ed to ser­vice­mem­bers buried at Arling­ton, Han­son said.

For more than a decade, Worces­ter spon­sored the Arling­ton Wreath Project with the mis­sion to remem­ber, hon­or, and teach, Han­son said. The event was kept small and rel­a­tive­ly anony­mous dur­ing those years, he said.

How­ev­er, the tra­di­tion gained world­wide expo­sure in 2005 when an Air Force pho­tog­ra­ph­er cap­tured an image of the event.

After the pho­to was post­ed to the Inter­net, peo­ple began to real­ize what Worces­ter “and so few of us were doing all these years,” Han­son said.

The Arling­ton Wreaths Project became the non­prof­it Wreaths Across Amer­i­ca in 2006, he said, not­ing that the num­ber of vol­un­teers, spon­sor­ships, dona­tions and wreaths has grown every year since.

Rod­way nev­er served in the mil­i­tary, but feels a strong con­nec­tion to ser­vice­mem­bers, hav­ing lived in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., for the past six years. Many of her clos­est friends, she said, are mil­i­tary mem­bers. Her father and uncle are also vet­er­ans.

“Every­one in this coun­try should try to do some­thing for the troops,” Rod­way said. “It’s impor­tant for today’s gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans not to for­get the sac­ri­fices of those who serve now and who served in the past. Any lit­tle thing a per­son can do to donate their time for a good cause is def­i­nite­ly worth a few hours in the cold.” In 2009, 151,000 wreaths were placed in more than 400 ceme­ter­ies across the coun­try by 60,000 vol­un­teers as part of Wreaths Across Amer­i­ca Day. More than 220,000 wreaths this year will be placed on gravesites at more than 500 ceme­ter­ies around the world, Han­son said.

“The tra­di­tion has grown tremen­dous­ly,” he said. “If the weather’s good [tomor­row], I expect we’ll have about sev­en or eight thou­sand vol­un­teers.” Han­son said vol­un­teers trav­eled all the way from Hawaii to par­tic­i­pate in last year’s wreath-lay­ing event at Arling­ton.

“It just goes to show you the pride peo­ple take in our coun­try and have in our ser­vice­mem­bers,” he said.

Many vet­er­ans of America’s past con­flicts who now remain at peace at Arling­ton don’t have liv­ing rel­a­tives or friends to remem­ber the sac­ri­fices they made, Han­son said.

“That per­son who was in World War I or the Kore­an War whose fam­i­ly mem­bers are all gone, may not have had any­one thank them for their ser­vice for decades,” he said. “That’s why peo­ple come here every year by the thou­sands just to say thank you. It’s an amaz­ing sight to see.”

More than 333,000 Amer­i­cans dat­ing back to the Civ­il War to the present-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried in Arling­ton Nation­al Ceme­tery. In hon­or of Worcester’s 20th year next year of donat­ing wreaths to the ceme­tery, Han­son said, the group hopes to work out a plan that will per­mit a wreath being placed on every sin­gle gravesite there.

Even­tu­al­ly, he added, the orga­ni­za­tion hopes that one year, they will be able to coor­di­nate an event that will see a wreath placed on the gravesite of every Amer­i­can vet­er­an across the coun­try.

“It’s going to take a lot of coor­di­na­tion,” Han­son said. “But it’s some­thing we’re going to con­tin­ue work­ing toward.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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