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By Maria Yunko
23 December 2008
Every year, the group Wreaths Across America honors fallen soldiers in the U.S. by placing wreaths on the graves during the holidays. What began as a small effort at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington has grown into a national tradition spanning 350 military cemeteries nationwide.
|Wreaths placed on graves during the holidays at Arlington National Cemetery|
A convoy of trucks delivered 10,000 wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery for the annual Wreaths Across America project.
Morrill Worcester, owner of the in the northeastern state of Maine, started the holiday tradition nearly two decades ago to honor America's fallen soldiers.
"I cannot believe that back 17 years ago when we have started it, there were 12 people here," Worcester recalls. "And we had a truck loaded with wreathes. It took us six hours to put the wreaths out. And today, I don't know what we have here. We have several thousand people."
This year, 3,000 volunteers were on hand to distribute the wreaths. "Just to pay how much to the people who have sacrificed themselves through the wars," explains one volunteer.
In the past 17 years the Worcester Wreath Company has donated almost 100,000 wreaths.
"The Worcester Wreath Company, which is my company, is the largest single donor," said Worcester. "This year we have donated about 20,000 wreaths. But nationwide is a 105,000. The other 85,000 wreaths were sponsored by individuals and companies, big and small, all around the United States. So we got a tremendous amount of support."
Even Santa Claus was on hand to help with this year's wreath laying. "I'm busy at this time of the year," Santa Claus said. "But I have made a hole in my schedule to be here."
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake thanked the volunteers for honoring the sacrifices of America's military heroes. "Every one of those volunteers as they lay these wreaths will have a connection with our history, with those who have served this nation and have protected our freedom and have given us an opportunity to live in this great country," Peake said.
Worcester says even as the effort has grown, the mission has never changed. It continues to remember the fallen, honor those who serve in the military and teach young people the value of public service.