Maine Farm Bureau member ensures the fallen are not forgotten.
After 13 years and roughly 52,000 wreaths, Maine Farm Bureau member Morrill Worcester's annual trek to Arlington National Cemetery is now a much-anticipated tradition for Worcester, Maine and Washington, D.C.-area volunteers and cemetery officials and visitors.
Worcester launched the tradition in December 1992 when his Harrington, Maine-based Worcester Wreath Co. had a surplus. Not wanting the wreaths to go to waste, he considered donating them to Arlington National Cemetery. The nation's military shrine made a distinct impression on Worcester during his first visit to Washington,D.C., when he was 12 years old.
With help from Sen. Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) office and transportation provided by Blue Bird Ranch, Worcester coordinated the first delivery of about 4,500 wreaths to the cemetery. The first year, it took Worcester and five other volunteers more than half a day to put out all the wreaths.
"Now it takes us only about an hour," Worcester said. "We've got so many volunteers, we're turning people away."
The wreaths are prepared in Maine by members of the civil air patrol, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, among other veterans organizations. Local students, residents and Worcester Wreath Co. employees also pitch in.
Once the wreaths arrive at Arlington National Cemetery yet another volunteer army, which includes Washington, D.C.-area veterans, students, staff from Maine's congressional delegation and cemetery employees, places the 4,000-plus wreaths throughout the cemetery and participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Also lending a helping hand are members of the Maine State Society, an organization composed of former Maine residents who now live in Washington. The group has long been involved, helping Worcester coordinate volunteers from the surrounding area.
Over the years, Worcester's wreaths have adorned the headstones of the sailors who lost their lives in the explosion that sunk the U.S.S. Maine in 1898, the final resting place of Maine native and former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and President John F. Kennedy's eternal flame. The wreaths have also honored more current casualties, including victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
More than 300,000 service members and their spouses and dependents are buried on the 600-plus acres comprising the cemetery. Worcester said that along with certain memorials that are decorated annually, cemetery officials ensure that wreaths are placed in sections that receive few visitors and the sections are rotated each year. The wreaths are traditionally placed in the older sections of the cemetery where the deceased are separated by many generations from their living relatives.
Worcester said he considers it a privilege to be able to honor the sacrifices of America's military.
"We're the largest mail-order wreath business in the world, and you could only do that in the United States," he said. "The opportunity that we have has a lot to do with those who gave their lives."
This year's wreath delivery is scheduled for Dec. 15. .
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