WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Tens of thousands of volunteers – including many wearing active duty uniforms – gathered in Arlington National Cemetery to adorn 142,000 grave markers with wreaths in honor of our nation’s veterans on Saturday.
It’s a tradition which began in 1992, Wreaths Across America says.
Visiting Arlington National Cemetery as a child had left such a lasting impression on Morrill Worcester – owner of a Maine-based wreath company – that years later, when he found himself with a surplus of wreaths at the end of one holiday season, he decided to donate them all to Arlington National Cemetery.
Worcester had them laid against the headstones of veterans in remembrance; in the same place that had such a profound effect on him so many years earlier — only, he had them laid in a section which had been losing visitors each year.
Distributing wreaths became an annual tradition for him – one that initially took an entire day to complete – but he slowly gathered support, like from the local American Legion which began supplying him with red bows, or the trucking company which offered to ship them.
Then in 2005, Worcester’s annual tribute, marching ever-forward and growing humbly each year, received the transformative push it needed to gain mainstream support from the public.
The photo below – featuring endless rows of grave sites poking out from the snow-capped ground, accentuated by big, beautiful red bow-tied wreaths – caught the eye of the internet, bringing viral attention to Worcester’s more than decade-old efforts.
A year later, ceremonies popped up at over 150 locations across the country, prompting Worcester to form Wreaths Across America in 2007, and establish a national network of volunteers.
The non-profit now distributes wreaths to every state in the country, even beyond and overseas, and this year surpassed its goal of acquiring 135,000 wreaths for Arlington National Cemetery by 7,000 to cover nearly 60 percent of its grave sites, along with the help of an army of volunteers.
One of those volunteers was Holden Kushner, a sports talk radio host for 106.7 The Fan, whose first time participating was a transformative experience all its own.
“To be completely honest with you, I really wasn’t excited about doing it; getting up early on a Saturday morning and being out in the cold,” Kushner said. “But then when you have a chance to go visit all these different grave sites, and laying down a wreath and acknowledging what these people did for your country.”
“It was just a really rewarding experience,” he said.
Walking around the cemetery, you won’t notice a shortage of servicemen, many still active, lending a hand either.
“I think it’s an appropriate and respectful way to honor those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation,” said Major Jonathan Craig – who lost his leg in a parachuting accident after his first tour of Iraq – as he walked around the expansive terrain.
“I see and I live it, that sometimes people take freedom for granted,” said a Petty Officer who’s family sought political refuge in the U.S. from Cuba when he was a teenager.
Volunteers began laying wreaths around 10 a.m., and the thousands walking the hallowed grounds were done by noon.
“There’s gigantic semi-trucks that are loaded with boxes of wreaths and they’re stationed all the way throughout Arlington Cemetery,” Kushner said. “They hand you anywhere from two to four wreaths, and you find the gravestones that haven’t been attended to yet, and you drop the wreath, you say a little prayer and move onto the next one.”
Kushner was particularly moved by the thousands taking in the same experience alongside him, feeling the exact same sense of pride and renewed appreciation for this country’s veterans and their sacrifice.
“You see all the grave sites, and just the thousands and thousands of wreaths that area laying right on them,” Kushner said.
“It was a real sense of community and national pride,” he said, adding he’ll surely participate again and again.
If you’re eager to help sooner rather than later, the next wave of volunteers comes through on Jan. 25 to remove the wreaths currently in place. Find out more by clicking here.