By Alexander Violo
Wreaths Across America will begin its 700 plus mile journey from Harrington, Maine to Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va. on Saturday, Dec. 5.
The following day, Sunday, Dec. 6, the organization will stop at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, one of the many communities Wreaths Across America will visit during the week long “Veteran’s Parade.”
At each stop along their route, which crosses several states and takes one week to complete, Wreaths Across America emphasizes the importance of remembering fallen heroes, honoring those who serve and teaching children about the sacrifices made by veterans and their families.
“We couldn’t be more pleased to have this at our school,” Medomak Valley High School Assistant Principal Linda Pease said.
Wreaths Across America is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed in 2007. There are currently more than 700 participating locations in 50 states, and 24 national cemeteries located on foreign soil.
The existing nonprofit has its roots in a 1992 tribute to veterans, where a trailer load of wreaths decorated by volunteers were laid at the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
The events at the national cemetery in 1992 had their Down East connection by way of Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, in Harrington, Maine.
Worcester and his company, who found themselves with a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season in 1992, decided to put the surplus towards honoring the nation’s veterans.
Working with Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made to place the wreaths at a portion of the national cemetery.
During the tribute’s inaugural year other individuals and organization rallied to support the effort, with James Prout, owner of the trucking company, Blue Bird Rach Inc., providing transportation for the wreaths all the way to Virginia.
Additionally, members of local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts volunteered their time to help residents in the community decorate the wreaths.
Since 1992, the annual trip to Arlington has become a tradition attracting large numbers of volunteers and support from throughout the country.
Pease said students at Medomak Valley have helped to prepare the school for the event and the kids also helped to make 14 wreaths for Wreaths Across America.
On Sunday in Waldoboro, area veterans from seven wars spanning back to World War II will be presented wreaths.
Additionally, town officials from the five towns with students in Regional School Unit 40 will be in attendance, receiving wreaths to be placed on their communities’ war memorials.
“Taking part in Wreaths Across America is a really awesome opportunity and it’s coming together so well,” Pease said.
She also said the Waldoboro Fire Department will use the department’s ladder truck to place an American flag at the school’s entrance.
Pease said since the school is taking part in the event for the first time, they are unsure how many people will be in attendance but are aware that other stops along the route can draw large crowds.
“A large part of what we have been doing is managing the campus and parking for the event,” Pease said.
Ann LePage, the first lady of Maine, will also be in attendance for the ceremony at Medomak Valley High School.
Though the Waldoboro high school will be taking part in Wreaths Across America for the first time this year, the community’s previous connections to the event helped to facilitate the local stop.
Pease said Matt Lash rode with Wreaths Across America in 2001, and his wife, Betsy Lash, was familiar with participants in the event at Harrington.
According to Susan Patten, a spokesperson with Wreaths Across America, the procession reflects the organization’s mission to remember, honor, and teach and the group’s stops during their time on the road gives them an opportunity to share their values with members of the public in a wide variety of communities.
“It’s a nice way to support the veterans and show our appreciation for their service,” Patten said.
The convoy accompanying Wreaths Across America consists of tractor-trailers loaded with handmade wreaths, motorcycles, and specially decorated vehicles carrying veteran’s families. Patten said she has not accompanied the trip before but she is excited to see the results of all the hard work volunteers and communities have put into the project.
“It’s my first trip and I’m certainly looking forward to being a part of it,” Patten said.
Prior to the procession’s kick off in Harrington there will be related ceremonies held in accordance with Wreath’s Across America’s mission throughout the early portion of the day.
At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, a HART (Honoring Allies and Remembering Together Ceremony will be held near the Canadian border at West Quoddy Head Light in Lubec.
Later that morning HART ceremonies will also be held at Ferry Point Bridge between Calais and St. Stephen, New Brunswick, the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario.
The ceremonies recognize the service of all veterans, including young men and women from Canada who are serving or have served in the U.S. Military.
Ceremonies will also be held at border crossings between Sweet Grass, Mont., and Coutts, Alberta and Haines, Alaska adjacent to Haines Junction, Yukon.
Wreaths Across America will also provide wreaths to the Canadian military to be placed at the War Memorial Cenotaph in St. Stephen, New Brunswick.
The group’s journey concludes on National Wreaths Across America Day, Saturday, Dec. 12, near Washington D.C., where the wreaths which made the journey from New England to the banks of the Potomac River will be laid on the headstones of veterans interred at the historic cemetery in Virginia.
Patten said honoring veterans and teaching children about their service is a critical part of the journey.
“I’m deeply fond of our mission,” Patten said.