On Saturday, December 17th, heroes at Arlington National Cemetery — and across America — will be honored with remembrance wreaths as part of the Wreaths Across America project.
History of Wreaths Across America
Wreaths have long been used as a memorial symbol at funerals. Ancient Greeks used wreaths to represent the idea of eternal life, and early Christians started using evergreen memorial wreaths because of the evergreens’ longevity and as a symbol of life after death.
It wasn’t long until wreaths became commonly used at memorial and remembrance ceremonies for soldiers.
The story of Wreaths Across America began back in 1992. A small Northeastern company — Worcester Wreath Company — found itself with a surplus of wreaths at the end of the holiday season.
The owner, Morrill Worcester, decided that instead of getting rid of the wreaths they should be put to good use. He recalled a trip he had taken when he was 12 to visit Washington D.C. where a stop at the Arlington National Cemetery had left a powerful impression on him. Worcester realized that he was lucky to live in the United States and that the sacrifice of veterans should never be taken for granted.
Pairing up with Maine Senator Olympia Snow, the Worcester Wreath Company decided to donate the extra wreaths to the cemetery. Worcester found an immediate outpour of support from all over. Several local companies helped transport the donated wreaths down to the cemetery in Virginia. Veteran organizations and local volunteers helped decorate the wreaths with ribbons and bows and assisted with placing the wreaths at the tombs of soldiers across the cemetery.
Making it Official
According to the Wreaths Across America website, the wreath ceremony went virtually unnoticed until 2005 when a picture of hundreds of snow-covered wreaths went viral. The project then started to get national attention and Wreaths Across America (WAA) registered as an official non-profit organization. As attention grew, thousands began volunteering, not only at Arlington National Cemetery but at national, state, and military cemeteries across America.
The Ceremony Today
By 2008, wreath-laying ceremonies took place in more than 300 locations in all 50 states and even some overseas cemeteries. The Wreaths Across America website states that more than 60,000 people participated in the ceremonies and more than 100,000 wreaths were placed on the tombs of soldiers. On December 13th, 2008, Congress made Wreaths Across America Day official.
By 2014, Wreaths Across America had grown to include more than 700,000 volunteers working to lay wreaths across 1,000 locations — including historical sites such as Pearl Harbor and the sites of 9/11. The organization also started the “Thanks a Million” campaign which sends thank-you cards to veterans and families for their service.
The mission of Wreaths Across America is simple — it’s to remember the fallen veterans, honor those who serve and teach children the value and price of freedom. During the wreath-laying ceremony, volunteers are encouraged to speak the names of each veteran when a wreath is placed.
The reason, according to the website, is that “A person dies twice: once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken.” By speaking a veteran’s name aloud, the WAA helps keep their memory alive.
How to Get Involved
As the ceremony enters its seventh year, there are many ways to help volunteer:
- Sponsoring a wreath is a simple and easy way to help honor a veteran. For just $15, a wreath can be placed at a local veteran’s grave.
- If you want to give back in a more hands-on way, volunteering is a great way to assist the program — and there are several ways to go about doing so. You can join a local volunteer group to help organize the wreath-laying or even create your own group.
- Find a group or organization accepting donations for Wreaths Across America in your area and make a donation.
- If you can’t find any local organizations, your funeral home also can start its own. Registering with WAA is easy and membership comes with a reference guide for several fundraising ideas.
- If your local cemetery doesn’t participate in WAA, you can register to have it added as an official participant in the program.
- Don’t forget to share the WAA mission and values. Connect with the WAA Media Center to get access to news releases, articles, creative assets, and help from the PR team.
How is your funeral home participating in Wreaths Across America Day? Share with us in the comments below!
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