Journey of the Wreaths
America's longest veterans' parade starts in Maine next month when a shipment of Christmas wreaths departs from Harrington bound for Arlington National Cemetery.
In virtually every town they travel through, the eighteen-wheelers and their Patriot Guard motorcycle escorts will be greeted by schoolchildren, store managers, and Vietnam veterans, many of them saluting as the trucks roll past. At night, they'll be guests of honor at community tree-lighting ceremonies and other holiday celebrations in places as varied as the Kittery Trading Post parking lot, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, and a community center in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. In homes and schools, veterans and children will track the parade down the East Coast courtesy of GPS units installed on the semis. Finally, on Saturday, December 15 - almost a week after the wreaths leave Maine - volunteers will place all ten thousand of the balsam laurels on the white granite monuments marking veterans' graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, delivered his first load of a few thousand garlands on a rainy December morning in 1992 after finding himself with an excess of them shortly before the holidays. Two years ago, a photograph of the wreaths appeared on the Internet along with a poem, and Worcester has been inundated with phone calls and e-mails from people wanting to help ever since. This year, he'll donate 14,371 wreaths - including 2,500 to veterans' cemeteries in Maine - and the holiday tradition keeps getting bigger. "It's even more emotional now," Worcester says. "This is something my whole family has loved to do, and the more people who are involved, the more it seems to hit home every year."
In Arlington, Worcester's crew usually decorates two sections of the cemetery, one of them an older area where many veterans' relatives have passed away and the graves might otherwise not see a lot of personal attention. The ceremony this year will be especially poignant for another reason: the Maine wreaths will be placed in Section 60, where the soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried.
While Worcester is proud to honor such brave men and women, he attaches no partisan messages to the wreath-laying ceremony. "We try to be totally non-political," he remarks. "Every person in that cemetery is equal, and we're not trying to make a statement of any kind, other than to say that we have what we have today because a lot of people made the ultimate sacrifice, or at least gave a significant part of their lives to their country."
This year's event will culminate in a wreath being placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns at precisely noon eastern standard time on December 15, so planned to coincide with wreath-laying ceremonies at twenty-four military sites overseas. Worcester is also trying to get the navy to drop a wreath into each of the world's oceans at that hour, though he's not sure he can coordinate it in time.
Finally, noon will be the moment when wreaths are placed on veterans' graves at 230 national cemeteries through the Wreaths Across America program, a nonprofit that Worcester created to accept donations that can then be put toward decorations on even more graves. "We're at the limit for what we can do, because we can't give away everything," he says, adding that the number of wreaths he donates every year is a sizeable portion of the 675,000 wreaths and balsam products his company produces each winter.
But no matter how much attention Worcester's rolling tribute generates this year, he says the focus should be on America's servicemen and women. "The attention that this thing gets is just more attention the veterans get, and that's so good," he says.
The following is the planned itinerary for the traveling procession. Please note that all times and locations are subject to change, and new stops may be added.
December 9, 2007
11:20 a.m. Sendoff ceremony at Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington
Noon Wreaths loaded, trucks and escorts depart Harrington for Arlington National Cemetery via U.S. Route 1.
12:45 p.m. Wreath presentation to Veterans Group in Sullivan
2:30 p.m. Stop at Rockland Fire Department
4 p.m. Stop at Wiscasset Irving station for break and to pick up Patriot Guard Riders escorts
5 p.m. Pass thru Freeport
5:30 p.m. Stop in Falmouth
6:30 p.m. Stop in Portland for ceremony & dinner
8:30 p.m. Stop in South Portland, with overnight accommodations at Merry Manor Best Western Hotel on Main Street (U.S. Route 1), South Portland
December 10, 2007
7:45 a.m. Trucks and escorts depart South Portland
8 a.m. Brief stop at Scarborough Veterans Home for wreath presentation
9 a.m. Stop in Old Orchard Beach. Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, will address students at elementary school and present a wreath to the school.
10 a.m. Stop in Wells. Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, will address students at Wells Junior High School and present a wreath to the school.
11:15 a.m. Stop at Kittery Trading Post
TBA Possible stop at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts for brief ceremony. Details are not yet finalized.
4 p.m. Stop in Foxboro, Massachusetts, at the parking lot across from Gillette Stadium for truck parking and a brief welcome
4:30 p.m. Depart parking lot for Holiday Inn Express, 395 Old Post Rd (U.S. Route 1), Sharon/Foxboro, Massachusetts
December 11, 2007
8 a.m. Staging at parking lot across from Gillette Stadium where the trucks are parked
8:30 a.m. Escorts leave hotel for staging area and a brief ceremony
9:30 a.m. Trucks and escorts depart Foxoboro
10:30 a.m. Stop at Emerald Square Mall, North Attleboro, Massachusetts
3 p.m. Stop at Stonington High School, U.S. Route 1, Stonington, Connecticut
4 p.m. Stop in Groton, Connecticut
5:30 p.m. Stop in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, with accommodations at the Comfort Inn, 100 Essex Rd, Old Saybrook. Several events have been planned for this evening by the Town of Old Saybrook.
December 12, 2007
10 a.m. Trucks and escorts depart Old Saybrook, Connecticut
11 a.m. Stop at middle school in Hamden, Connecticut
Noon Stop at Tomlinson Middle School in Fairfield, Connecticut
3 p.m. Stop in Darien, Connecticut, with truck parking at the VFW hall and accommodations at the Doubletree Hotel in Norwalk, Connecticut, and the Super 8 Motel in Stamford, Connecticut
December 13, 2007
9 a.m. Trucks and escorts depart Darien, Connecticut
10:30 a.m. Stop in Mamaroneck, New York, for wreath ceremony
1 p.m. Stop in Fort Lee, New Jersey, for ceremony at either the VFW or town hall
4 p.m. Stop in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, with accommodations at the Holiday Inn Express, 7 South Pennsylvania Ave., Morrisville
December 14, 2007
9 a.m. Trucks and escorts depart Morrisville, Pennsylvania
10 a.m. Stop at Washington Park in Philadelphia
Noon Stop in Oxford, Pennsylvania, for wreath ceremony
2:30 p.m. Stop in Bel Air, Maryland, for wreath ceremony
4 p.m. Stop in Brentwood, Maryland, for wreath ceremony
4:45 p.m. Stop at College Park Fire Station in College Park, Maryland, for trucks to be washed and parked for the night. Accommodations are at Best College Park Inn, 8601 Baltimore Avenue (U.S. Route 1), College Park.
December 15, 2007
TBA Trucks and escorts depart College Park Fire Station in College Park, Maryland, for Arlington National Cemetery
- By: Joshua F. Moore