Observances

Wreaths Across America: How One Tribute Started a Movement

Dec. 14, 2018 | BY Katie Lange

National Wreaths Across America Day has become such a big tradition that it’s hard to believe it began from just one personal tribute and this photo, which went viral.

Christmas wreaths adorn headstones in snowy cemetery.
Christmas Wreaths
Christmas wreaths adorn headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., in December 2005.
Photo By: Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi
VIRIN: 051215-F-3050V-029

So how did it happen? Here’s the scoop:

The Worcester family of Harrington, Maine, owns their own tree farm. In 1992, they had a surplus of wreaths during the holiday season, so the family patriarch, Morrill – who had long felt indebted to our fallen veterans – got help from a Maine politician to have those spare wreaths placed beside graves in Arlington National Cemetery in areas that received fewer visitors each year.

Several volunteers stepped up to help, including veterans from American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and a truck company owner who transported the wreaths to Arlington, Virginia, where a small ceremony was held at the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This remained a small yearly tradition for nearly 15 years until a photo taken at the 2005 ceremony went viral. Almost immediately, thousands of people wanted to know how to help or how they could begin a similar tradition in their states.

Wreaths on graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington Wreaths
Wreaths are placed on memorial markers in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section E during the Wreaths Across America event in Arlington, Va., Dec. 16, 2017.
Photo By: Elizabeth Fraser, Army
VIRIN: 171216-A-IW468-020C

By the next year – with the help of some civic organizations and volunteers, including in the trucking industry – there were 150 simultaneous ceremonies held across the country. By 2008, the movement to remember, honor and teach had grown so much that Congress had declared the third Saturday in September National Wreaths Across America Day.

By 2014, the now-nonprofit Wreaths Across America had reached its goal of placing a wreath at all 226,525 graves in the cemetery.

Navy sailors distribute wreaths to volunteers.
Wreath Volunteers
Navy personnel from the Navy International Programs Office, Washington, distribute wreaths to volunteers during the Wreaths Across America event at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 15, 2012.
Photo By: Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Robert W. Valenca
VIRIN: 121215-F-RG506-046C

The event continues to grow. This year, the organization shipped a staggering 1.75 MILLION wreaths to 1,640 locations that will hold ceremonies across the U.S. A few dozen locations overseas will participate. The organization said this was the first year they were granted permission to place wreaths at Normandy to honor those who died during World War II’s D-Day invasion.

Veterans and Gold Star families are many of the roughly 2 million volunteers who prepare the wreaths, ship them across the country and put them on the graves.

An Airman salutes after placing wreath on a grave at Arlington National Cemetery.
Headstone Salute
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Charles C. Orf salutes a headstone at Fort Richardson National Cemetery during the annual Wreaths Across America Day at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 16, 2017.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. James Richardson
VIRIN: 171216-F-GO452-0086C

Pretty cool, right?

To all of those who have volunteered time, efforts and money to the cause, cheers to you!