Wreaths Across America gathered on Saturday to lay hundreds of thousands of wreaths across the United States in an effort to honor our buried veterans. They reportedly laid over 250,000 wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, VA. Although Arlington is what many people think of when they think of the wreaths placed upon gravestones in the snow, Wreaths Across America actually works across multiple cemeteries where veterans lay throughout the U.S.
However, the point of the organization is not just to decorate the graves to make them pretty. On their website, the organization quotes the famous, “A person dies twice: once when they take their final breath, and later, the last time their name is spoken.” Though the origins of the quote are varied, Wreaths Across America has taken it to heart.
“When we lay wreaths on veterans’ graves, we say their names.” Every wreath laid warrants the name on the gravestone spoken out loud.
A young boy went to Arlington National Cemetery years ago, and in 1992 he would return as a grown man, having never forgotten his experience there. Morrill Worcester owned the Worcester Wreath Company, and his company found itself with a surplus of 5,000 wreaths. Without much public attention, the company began a tradition of placing wreaths at the graves of those buried in Arlington. That was, until 2005, when a picture of the wreaths on headstones went viral and garnered national attention.
Once they got the attention of the country, they still didn’t have enough wreaths to place on nearly as many graves as they would have liked, so they sent out seven wreaths to each state — one for each branch of the service, one for POWs and one for our nation’s MIAs. After volunteers started coming in left and right to help place wreaths in cemeteries everywhere, they formed the 501-(c)(3) (non-profit organization) in 2007.
Their mission is to “Remember. Honor. Teach.” They place the wreaths as a symbol and reminder, and they speak the names to remember that these veterans will live on in our minds. However, this is also an effort that greatly affects the volunteers as well, and it fosters an appreciation for our nation’s veterans; it makes what might be some romantic idea of our military and turns it into a reality. That reality can be hard — many buried in Arlington gave their lives at a very young age, but to these volunteers, a part of that sacrifice has not been lost on them, otherwise they wouldn’t be out there.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.